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Client Spotlight interview with Joe Bert of Certified Financial Group
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Client Spotlight: Certified Financial Group Joe Bert started his financial planning business in hopes of providing others with financial advice he wished he had access to earlier in his life. Now with many years of experience under his belt, he is able to provide personal financial planning advice and has much to offer as a business owner as well. In addition to serving as chairman for Certified Financial Group, Joe also hosts a weekly radio show called On the Money that is broadcast locally in the Orlando area. “When you’ve done the financial planning and shown them what they need to do — it’s that sigh of relief that you can hear and see that is very rewarding. It’s what keeps me in the business.”

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MCC: How did you get starting in financial planning?
JB: I got started when I moved to Florida in 1975 — after selling a business that I had started when I got out of college in 1968 — and didn’t know quite what I wanted to do. I spent six months talking to business owners and business executives, looking for an opportunity to do something. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’d always been an entrepreneur and I didn’t really want to work for somebody. So I looked for opportunities in financing and other various things, and I found a consistent theme. In talking to people and getting to know them a little bit, after having a beer or going out to dinner with them, we got to talking about our own personal financial lives. I found that their personal financial lives mirrored mine, which was a collection of financial accidents. And for the first time in my business career, I was out of the trees and looking at the forest. I found that the reason for this was — and is still true today — that many successful business people are good at what they do in their business and their career or their profession. And they’re getting a lot of advice from a lot of well-intentioned people — their stockbroker, their CPA, their insurance agent, their brotherin-law. Everybody has a different idea — they’re watching CNBC and reading the Wall Street Journal and doing this and doing that without any idea of where they’re going or how they want to get there.
I said, “That’s me.” I was a business major, an international business major, but my personal financial life was a collection of financialaccidents. And about that time I stumbled upon Financial Planning Magazine. Financial planning, back in the early ’70s, was very much a cottage industry, just getting started, but I read that magazine from cover to cover about four times. I said, “This is something that I think I could use personally, and I think there’s a need for it,” and I began to understand what it took to become a certified financial planner. I got my license in 1979, and today I’m one of a little less than 50,000 CFPs (Certified Financial PlannersTM) throughout the country. I was one of the first CFPs in Orlando. I formed my practice and merged with a couple of CPAs in the late ’70s, and the rest is history.

MCC: When you started your practice, you went out on your own?
JB: Yes. I was a sole-practitioner.

MCC: What led you to make that decision?
JB: Well, there were really not any other alternatives back then. There were not firms, like mine today. Back then, you either were a stockbroker or an independent financial planner, which is what we still are today. So there weren’t really any alternatives other than to put out your own shingle and learn the hard way. Which is what I did. That’s why I have gray hair; I still have it, but it’s gray.

MCC: Well, that’s good. So not only were you entrepreneurial in that you started your own company, but there also wasn’t really a industry measuring stick, per se.
JB: Right. No.

MCC: Now, what services are offered by your company today?
JB: We do fee-based financial planning and asset management. We also establish and manage 401(k) plans for companies.

MCC: Who, would you consider to be your main competition?
JB: Actually, if people really understood what we do and the unique nature of how we do it, we don’t have any competition. There are a lot of people out there today that call themselves “financial advisors”, “financial planners”, “financial consultants”. But there’s nobody in Central Florida that has as many certified financial planning licensees under one roof as we do. We just had a new one join us today, which brings us to ten.

MCC: Wow.
JB: Nobody can come close to us in terms of the number of independent certified financial planner practitioners, under one roof. And that’s the unique part. That’s our strength. Our strength is the independence.

MCC: The independence?
JB: We have no house products. We can pick and choose the best investment ideas, the best investment products, because nobody pays our rent.

MCC: Gotcha. So that’s what you would say sets you apart . . .
JB: Yes. Experience and independence.

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