Podcast: Former LPL CEO and Current Vestigo Ventures GP Mark Casady Shares Lessons From the C-Suite

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Financial Advisor
Former LPL CEO Mark Casady on ‘Life 2.0’
By Steve Sanduski

2 November 2017

Editor’s Note from Belay Advisor: This is the first in a series of interviews with leaders on topics of timely importance to financial advisors. These articles are based on Steve Sanduski’s interviews on his podcast, Between Now and Success.

The concept of retirement is changing before our eyes and Mark Casady is a prime example.

Casady has pretty much seen it all in his 30-plus years in financial services. But after serving as chairman of the board and CEO for LPL Financial, where he led the company through its IPO and grew it into the fifth largest brokerage firm in the United States, Casady is now seeing things from the other side of the financial planning spectrum: as a retiree.

Casady “retired” earlier this year and I had to ask him how you go from being a high-powered CEO of a publically traded company to a retired baby boomer.

“Well, after about three months of not working day-to-day at LPL, my wife looked at me and said, ‘Do you realize you've not even taken me to lunch once?’” Casady quipped. “I said, ‘I was trying to avoid that! Not because I don't want to spend time with you, but because that just seems so cliché, to take you to lunch all the time now that we have more time together.’”

Of course, like many retirees these days, Casady’s retirement is more active than he’s letting on. He’s putting his lifetime of skills and experience to use as a general partner and advisory board chairman of Vestigo Ventures, which invests in early stage fintech companies. In fact, Casady doesn’t really think about this stage in his life as “retirement.” He prefers “Life 2.0.”

“I will admit to being a planner, so I've studied the subject of what to do when you leave the formal corporate life and how to think about your time, and think about what's important to you in the next phase,” Casady says. “And that's where I coined this idea of ‘Life 2.0’ as a way of really denoting that. It's not really retirement, in the sense of our parents’ retirement.”

The son of an Episcopal minister who moved to a new church every two years, Casady credits his somewhat itinerant childhood with helping him ease the transition into retired life. “I've always learned to adopt to whatever the new situation was,” Casady remembers.  “And if you tell me, you're the CEO of LPL, then I do the things CEO's does. If you tell me I'm a general partner in a venture fund, then I'm that. I've always had an ability to switch off and on, I think because of that early childhood experience.”

Passions In Retirement

Perhaps another secret to Casady’s successful retirement is that his new position at Vestigo allows him to pursue the things he is truly passionate about—an increasingly important component of retirement planning for people from all walks of life. In Casady’s case, “It never was important to me to be the CEO in the sense of the power that it represents. What I did it for was really two things. One was I loved seeing people that I worked with doing things they could never imagine doing. And the second was to create employment in which people can take home a good salary, buy a house, have kids, do whatever's important to them. So, I can do that in this life, just in a different way than I did in the last one.”

It’s fitting that at Vestigo, Casady is still finding ways to change people’s lives, because acting as a “change agent” was one of the hallmarks of his career.

A key moment in Casady’s career came in the 1998 Scudder-Kemper Zurich merger, which at the time raised a lot of eyebrows in the financial services industry. Many didn’t understand why a direct-sales company like Scudder would want to take on Kemper’s advisor-sold products, in an industry that seemed to be moving definitively towards the direct side.

Casady was one of five members on the Management Committee at Scudder, Stevens and Clark, as well as a board member. He recognized that the firm’s outdated partnership structure was dragging on the succession ownership process, and isolating Scudder from the global marketplace. Merging allowed the new firm to transition from 95% US-based into a global mutual and institutional funds business, all while saving costs and making way for a new generation of leadership talent.

Still the deal flew in the face of ‘90s conventional wisdom that direct-to-consumer sales was the unavoidable future. Casady even went so far as to shepherd a study that concluded that as people became wealthier, their finances become more complex, and the value of financial advisors would increase.

Sounds an awful lot like current life-centered planning trend in our industry bucking the inevitable “rise of the robos.” But at the time, Casady appeared to be out of step with the industry trend. “I can still remember being on the cover of ‘Barron's,’ called out by the belief that I was all wrong,” Casady says. “But we merged the companies together, we put the boards of the mutual fund companies together, we merged products together and we only sold through the advice channel. Once the next recession hit, post the technology stock bubble burst, around 2002, you saw basically the industry falling inline to that same thinking.”

Seeing Around The Corner

Casady reflected back on what one of his biggest “themes” was as a leader and he said, “I’m often early.” The Sudder Kemper merger was a great example. Barron’s called him out on it yet just a few years later, it was viewed as a great move.

“Frankly, some of the consolidations at LPL is another example of being early. In the end it all worked out fine but there might have been a year or two years or even three years where the marketplace would say ‘what in the world are these people doing?’ Or ‘why are they doing that?’ Or ‘maybe Casady has lost his edge along the way,’ said Casady.

Casady said he knew that while his timing might have been off, the firm would eventually get to the right place. Yes, it worked for Casady but here’s a caveat for advisors--timing is critical. Sometimes you can have a great idea that’s too far ahead of its time—and it’s a bust. Being “too early and right” is just as bad as being wrong. Hey, nobody said leadership was easy!

Value Proposition For Advisors

Since the ‘90s, fintech has only become smarter and more accessible. The challenge for advisors today is no longer competing with technology, but integrating it into their practices in ways that facilitate new conversations about retirement, and set themselves apart from the competition.

Casady sees two important aspects to this rethinking of the relationship between technology, advisors, and their clients. “I think first and foremost it's about really having delighted clients,” he says—and that delight goes beyond just offering clients a shiny app to track investment returns on their phones. The quality of the people greeting your clients when they walk in the door right on through to the quality of your discovery process should keep clients engaged with their financial planning, and with their advisor.

That leads to Casady’s second key: improving advisors’ value propositions to each individual.

“If you talk to me about what money means to me, and why money is important to me, and how I think about charitable choices or choices for my children, that matters a lot more,” he says. “Now you're engaged in the psychology of money, and I personally think that that's the way to build an enduring franchise.”

Casady believes that combining those two aspects—the quality client experience with quality of life discussions—will keep advisors at the forefront of clients minds any time they’re faced with major decisions where their money and their lives intersect. That’s a smart strategy for retaining clients, and closing prospects.

Future Of Financial Advice

So what does the change expert see on the horizon for the financial advice industry? In the fintech space, Vestigo is targeting investable companies that are innovating in wealth management and automated regulation—two spaces that align with Casady’s interests, and expertise of his team. At the advisory level, Casady doesn’t see a future where a few big wirehouses swallow up independent RIAs, even as LPL seems to be entering another phase of consolidation and acquisition. Scaling will continue to be a key challenge for ambitious independent RIAs, but Casady notes that whether you’re a $50 million AUM firm trying to hit $100 million, or a $100 million AUM firm shooting for $1 billion, “It’s all a form of institutionalization of your business that's important. They're all forms of the same thing, which is scale and being able to take your cost across a larger asset phase.”

Ultimately, Casady circles back to the importance of “delighting” your clients, and baking that sense of delight into your branding, and your corporate culture. “If I’m Casady Wealth Management, and my brand is about customer delight, then that has to become a part of the culture. I have to teach it to new employees. I have to reinforce it with existing employees. I have to live the brand. Whether you're running an organization of two people or you're running an organization of 10,000, you've got to live the values of your brand. Because that brand is your culture, or vice versa.”

It sure seems like Casady is “living his brand” in retirement.

“What fun I’ve had,” Casady says of his career, and his life. “My wife and I, particularly now that we have a little bit more time together, look at each other and say, ‘Are we the two luckiest people we know?’ What fun we've had along the way. And what fun we're going to have as we go to the next days.”

Don’t we all want our clients to look back on a fulfilling retirement, and the process that got them there, and feel the same way? Yes! But you won’t get there by just focusing on helping clients save enough money for retirement. As Casady says, he’s living “Life 2.0,” and as an advisor, putting your clients “life” at the center of the conversation, not their money, will ensure that you become their advisor for life.

Steve Sanduski, CFP, is founder and president of Belay Advisor, which offers financial advisor coaching, speaking, consulting and marketing services.