“Rely not on the likelihood of the enemy not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.”  – Sun Tzu, the Art of War

The ancient military general, strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu’s words are still worth heeding. Interestingly, they also draw strong parallels to our relationship with money.

When it comes to high income earners, making a better-than-average wage does not always predispose this group to build true wealth, just like the strength of an army does not always ensure its victory. In fact, history and experience show that modest income earners in other fields of work may be more likely than the income-rich to meet their retirement goals, even while generously donating to charitable causes and passing on legacy funds to children and grandchildren.

The high-wage, low-wealth phenomena seems contrary to common sense but it is one reason many high income earners, healthcare professionals in particular, seek out and are willing to trust a skilled financial strategist. Read on for more of Sun Tsu’s tips on “The Art of War,” many of which are surprisingly applicable to successful money management.

“One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.”

When devoted to their work, professionals go all-in. By its nature, such single minded commitment demands the phasing out of other things. You could say becoming a “specialist” is defined partly by what you exclude.
In order for your primary attention to be directed to the work you love, a wealth advisor will focus on the everyday, mundane financial tasks and keep watch for opportunities that serve your best interest. And just like you enjoy the fruits of your work, a financial strategist derives immense satisfaction by helping you conquer obstacles on the path to wealth.

“The expert in battle moves the enemy, and is not moved by him.”

Unfortunately, high wage-earners can be irresistible targets for financial providers whose primary income comes from product sales. At SYM we believe such “advisors” actually pose more of a threat to building wealth than an aid. To make matters worse, a large portion of the financial services industry has yet to gear its business model to the clients’ exclusive best interest.

We believe the antidote to a bad advisory relationship is to be intentional about building a trusted, fiduciary relationship with a financial advisor who will commit, in writing, to use your best interest as their guiding principal (the financial industry’s equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath). Even an informal or project-based liaison with an expert, honorable advisory team can equip you to discern when you are being sold, not helped, by another provider. Once you have such a connection, it can serve as a powerful deterrent to the “wrong” kind of advisor, who often comes calling as your wealth and income grow.

“Some people think insufficiency means weakness and surplus means strength, but this impression is wrong.”

When building a career the sacrifice always comes first. Yet when the money starts to come in, years spent penny-pinching invariably result in an avalanche of pent-up “wants”. You finally have money! Now you can spend it. Right?

Unfortunately, equating surplus with strength has toppled countless potential millionaires. Sadly, otherwise successful professionals can easily find themselves, years after the income jump, still firmly in debt. The income jump itself created a perfect storm of justification.

Because the siren call of high income (and surplus stuff) is so inviting, an advisor is well worth his or her fees if he or she can help you commit to specific areas of financial discipline – helping you to build lifelong wealth while you also enjoy your income and the opportunities it brings.

“Therefore, those skilled in war bring the enemy to the field of battle and are not brought there by him.”

The need for financial guidance begins well before young professionals have any money to invest. However, the painful irony is that many elite advisory groups simply won’t accept new clients before they accrue a meaningful amount of assets. Lacking early guidance and in spite of impressive annual salaries, a surprising number of healthcare professionals never reach these advisors’ required $500k-$1M investment minimums.

Young professionals should work to proactively find an advisor who works with up-and-comers on a project or retainer-based basis, and who helps them lay a strong foundation for income prioritization, student loan repayment strategies, insurance coverage needs and savings plans. According to Sun Tsu, by the time the field of battle comes to you, it’s often too late.

“Just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.”

As careers and incomes grow, new financial obligations and opportunities emerge. During mid-career, balancing the demands of family, education, lifestyle, practice growth and personal savings may seem overwhelming. Seasoned professionals, firmly established in their practice, may fine-tune their focus on transforming cash flow into the creation of true wealth. Those who become private practice owners may ponder their responsibility to maximize their company’s retirement plan for themselves and their employees.

A true advisory partnership extends through, and looks forward to, each of these life stages. Change is a constant, and good advisory relationships can serve as a steadying force during times of transition and acclimation.

Opportunities multiply as they are seized.”

At SYM Financial Advisors, we manage more than $2.4 billion* in wealth; in Sun Tsu’s time, a kingdom of riches. We believe in our ability to construct and adapt wealth-winning strategies and feel that our clients do, too. Call or email to get to know a SYM advisor free of cost or obligation, and see what opportunities may be waiting.

Disclosures: The opinions expressed herein are those of SYM Financial Corporation LLC (“SYM”) and are subject to change without notice. This material is not financial advice or an offer to sell any product. SYM reserves the right to modify its current investment strategies and techniques based on changing market dynamics or client needs. SYM is an independent investment adviser registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, as amended. Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. More information about SYM including our investment strategies, fees, and objectives can be found in our ADV Part 2, which is available upon request. SYM-17-18. *as of 7/1/18 per SYM’s ADV.