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Banking and Financial Services

Big Is Getting Even Bigger

By Jeff Liguori

 

Financial advice generally addresses the question ‘where should I put my money?’ It is a simple way of asking ‘what is the optimal investment for my hard-earned dollars?’ The more important meaning may be more literal: with today’s shifting landscape, where do I actually put my money?

The financial-services industry, which employs approximately 6.5 million people and is responsible for more than $123 trillion in assets in the U.S., has been rapidly changing over the past two decades. And the rate of that change is quickening. As with all industries, change may be the only certainty, but when it directly impacts our pocketbooks, it can create anxiety.

At the end of 2020, there were 4,377 FDIC-insured commercial banks in the U.S. That number is down from 6,519 in 2010 and more than 8,000 in 2000. During the same 20-year period, the dollar volume of loans generated by those banks has increased 127%, growing from $1.05 trillion to $2.38 trillion. Consumers seem to have fewer choices in terms of traditional banking.

Despite the number of banks being cut in half since 2000, there are more financial outlets than ever for depositors, borrowers, and investors. Finance has become a complex structure and confusing network of companies, from purely digital firms with a limited product offering, like PayPal, to massive financial supermarkets like Bank of America. Incidentally, in the past five years, the number of total active user accounts with PayPal has risen sharply from 165 million to 380 million, up 130%, with total annual transaction volume approaching $1 trillion.

Jeff Liguori

Jeff Liguori

“Finance has become a complex structure and confusing network of companies, from purely digital firms with a limited product offering, like PayPal, to massive financial supermarkets like Bank of America.”

The adoption of technology in banking is largely a function of age. At the end of 2020, nearly 50% of consumers ages 24 to 39 were making payments with digital or mobile wallets. That percentage decreases slightly up to age 54. But only one-fifth of consumers ages 55 to 73 transact digitally, and only one in 12 consumers age 74 or older are comfortable making digital payments. Focusing on younger demographics, ‘killer app’ technology has become a critical component of growth for companies in financial services. The number of financial-technology startups, or fintech, in North America has grown 90% since 2018.

Beyond technology, financial firms continue to expand their suite of products. For example, the five largest life-insurance companies measured by annual premium revenue are Northwestern Mutual, MetLife, New York Life, Prudential, and MassMutual, in that order. Those firms also have a significant presence in investment management, by way of mutual funds or wealth advisory or both. The same is true for the largest commercial banks, investment banks, and broker-dealers. Financial solutions are ubiquitous across the industry regardless of the type of firm.

Big is getting even bigger. It is an evolution in financial services, and not without precedent. Historically, consumers deposited their paycheck and took out their mortgage from the local bank. They obtained insurance through a local broker and invested with a local advisor. As these independent businesses got bought by larger firms, the relationship to the community slowly eroded. Meanwhile, our bank is connected to our PayPal account, directly pays our mortgage and car payments, and debits our monthly Netflix subscription. The idea of switching banks is enough to cause sleeplessness, even though our relationship manager works at a call center in Tulsa.

As with all trends, opportunities arise. The combination of an intricate financial landscape with rapidly changing technology and a greater access to products and solutions than ever before is exciting. Lost in the consolidation of banking is the local connection. In years past, a bigger institution had greater access, but that is no longer the case.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey was the frustrated local banker who single-handedly saved the town from financial ruin. He couldn’t compete with the wealthy industrialist, Henry Potter, who owned half of Bedford Falls. But George had one thing Mr. Potter didn’t, the trust of his neighbors. As financial products and services continue to multiply and digitize at a dizzying pace, it will ultimately be the local trusted banker or advisor who helps confused consumers make the right choices.

 

Jeff Liguori is the co-founder and chief Investment officer of Napatree Capital, an investment boutique with offices in Longmeadow as well as Providence and Westerly, R.I.; (401) 437-4730.

Features

Moving Up to the Show

 

documentary on his one-man show, Yield of Dreams, Charlie Epstein

For the documentary on his one-man show, Yield of Dreams, Charlie Epstein visited the actual ‘field of dreams’ stadium in Iowa, a visit he said was inspirational on many levels.

Charlie Epstein joked that he has more people working for him on his one-man show — Yield of Dreams: A Financially Entertaining Experience — than he does at the financial-services company he founded, now part of Hub International.

Only … it’s no joke.

Indeed, over the past 21 months or so, Epstein, known to many as the 401k Coach, has hired comedians, directors, stage managers, animators, and more (the cast of supporters keeps growing) as he prepares to bring his show to the stage — in this case, the Northampton Arts Center — on Aug. 26 and 27.

That show, which has been delayed in some respects by COVID-19, will indulge both of Epstein’s passions — acting and financial advising, both of which he’s been doing for decades now.

The acting? That’s been a passion since childhood, and a diversion that was a big part of his life for more than a dozen years. He’s done everything from standup comedy in New York to another one-man show at the former CityStage called Solitary Confinement, in which he played seven roles.

The financial advising? That, too, has been a passion that has taken a number of forms, from books — Paychecks for Life and Save America, Save! — to a podcast to a video series.

Bringing the two worlds together has become yet another passion for Epstein, one that will put him on a live stage for the first time since he did an off-off-Broadway show just before 9/11.

After the final production of that show, he said a voice inside him told him it was time to leave the stage and move onto other things, including the books and the 401k Coach entrepreneurial endeavor.

“I’d pretty much accomplished everything I wanted to,” he recalled of his acting career. “I was done.”

Turns out, he was only done for a while. OK, a long while.

What brought him back was a desire to present his message in a new, different, and more entertaining way, and in the process, spread the message and attract new customers.

“We’re calling this a financially entertaining experience,” he said, “because the show asks the question: ‘what did you want to be when you grew up? And what happened to that promise?’ Everyone made a promise to themself growing up, only how many people kept the promise? My promise to myself was I always wanted to be an entertainer, and I kept the promise and figured out to successfully navigate living in both worlds.

“Most people are not pursuing their life’s passions — they are stuck in a job that is less than fulfilling, working for a paycheck, hoping one day they will finally get to do what they have always dreamed of.”

“Most people are not pursuing their life’s passions — they are stuck in a job that is less than fulfilling, working for a paycheck, hoping one day they will finally get to do what they have always dreamed of,” he went on. “In this show, I’ll bust your myths about money that hold you back from living the life you have always dreamed of.”

To do so, he’ll draw on some of his own real-life experiences, specifically with his acting career.

“I had basically taken three to five months off a year from 1988 to 2001,” he told BusinessWest. “And I discovered that the more time I took off from my financial business to pursue my acting and entertainment career, the more money I made every year.”

As noted, this show has been in the works for more than two years now and was inspired by a desire to return to the stage. Epstein said he met with Mike Koenig, serial entrepreneur, author, podcaster, and founder of the Superpower Accelerator, in the early fall of 2019 to discuss his plans.

“He told me that I should be like Leno and Letterman and all the great comics who have shows and hire my own comedy team to help me write these ideas that I had,” Epstein recalled, adding that, in exchange for being named producer of the show, Koenig said he would find the comedians — which he did.

“I flew out to La Jolla, California, and holed up for two days in a condo he [Koenig] has overlooking the Pacific,” Epstein went on. “I was there with three comedians, and I basically acted out all the ideas I had in my head. And with those three comedians, we crafted the outline of the one-man show. Then I went home and wrote 168 pages from October to Thanksgiving, then went back out to California in January for another two days of going over things. Then COVID hit, and we spent the next three or four months on Zoom, editing, writing, and acting things out.”

Subsequently, he has hired a director, a stage manager, a lighting designer, animators, and more to bring the show to life. He also traveled across the country for the filming of a documentary on the making of the show, created by Emmy Award winner Nick Nanton. There were location shoots in a variety of settings, including a mountaintop in California, New England, and the actual ‘field of dreams’ in Iowa, the one made famous in the movie starring Kevin Costner, a visit that Epstein said was inspirational on a number of levels.

“It’s like a shrine — it was fantastic being there,” he said, noting that he rented out for the field for two days so he and his crew could film at dusk. “I finally got to do what I always wanted to do, like James Earl Jones — walk into that cornfield like a ghost.”

Epstein, who is now spending several hours a day rehearsing, will perform Yield of Dreams: A Financially Entertaining Experience twice at the Northampton Arts Center, on Aug. 26 and 27 at 7 p.m. There is no cost to attend those shows; seats can be reserved, and that aforementioned documentary can be viewed, by downloading the app at yieldof dreams.live.

After those shows … the plan is to take the show on the road, as they say.

“The goal is to go city to city, tour the country, and teach people that they, too, can achieve their dreams,” he said, adding that the timing for such a show is ideal because many people have been cooped up during COVID, thinking about the present — and the future.

“They’re thinking, ‘I’m working in a job I can’t stand for a paycheck, and I’m miserable. Why don’t I just go for my dream?” Epstein said. “That’s what this show is. It’s me living my passion and trying to be an inspiration to other people.”

 

—George O’Brien

Women of Impact 2019

Principal, Deliso Financial Services

She Helps People — and the Community — Get Where They Need to Be

Jean Deliso likes to say she is part financial advisor, part therapist.

This description of her work as owner of Deliso Financial and Insurance Services in Agawam sums up not only what she does, but how she does it. Indeed, while the primary objective of her job is to provide financial advice to her clients, she is also committed to forming a personal relationship with each individual who sits in front of her in order to better understand exactly where they are financially and where they want to be — and help them get there.

This is especially true with women, a rewarding niche, if one chooses to call it that, for Deliso, who has, over the course of her 25-year career in this field, become a specialist in empowering women and positioning them for a solid financial future, as well as during times of transition, such as divorce and widowhood.

“I spend a lot of time trying to speak to women because I want them to not be afraid and get educated so they understand that the decision they make, or the lack of the decision they’re making, is going to make a difference in their lives,” Deliso told BusinessWest. “We deserve equality, but we as women need to believe that we deserve equality.”

But helping women — and all her clients — chart a course for a lifetime of financial stability is only one of many reasons why Deliso has been chosen as a Woman of Impact for 2019.

She is also heavily involved in the community, especially with groups and causes that impact children and families. She currently serves as chairman of the board of the Baystate Health Foundation, and is immediate past chairman of the Community Music School, for example, and is also past chair of the board of the YMCA of Greater Springfield and past trustee of the Community Foundation of Western Mass.

Meanwhile, as the daughter and granddaughter of entrepreneurs (more on that later), and a successful one herself, she is also a mentor to young entrepreneurs, especially women, through work with Valley Venture Mentors.

Talking about the various aspects of her life — her work, her involvement in the community, and her family life — Deliso said they all connect and flow together.

“Most people in life think they have it figured out and that they’re all set, but the reality is, they’re not. We’re all very busy people, and, because of that, we don’t take care of ourselves.”

“Some people are different at work than they are at home, but I’m the same way throughout,” she said. “I’ve really identified that my effort in my business matches what I do in the community, and matches who I am. All three components are aligned.”

Together, they make her a true Woman of Impact, as noted by Scott Berg, vice president of Philanthropy at Baystate Health, executive director of the Baystate Health Foundation — and a client of Deliso Financial Services, one of her several people who nominated her.

“Jean is an outstanding person, both professionally and personally. She has built a successful business focused on helping people reach their financial goals,” he wrote. “I believe the key to Jean’s business success has been her unwavering dedication to the community; she is a person, both in business and in the community, who leads by example.”

On-the-money Advice

Deliso told BusinessWest that her strong work ethic, commitment to the community, desire to help others, and, yes, leadership by example are all what she calls family traits.

Indeed, she said she grew up in a family of entrepreneurs — her grandfather, Joseph Deliso Sr., founded HBA Cast Products, later run by her father — who made a point of donating time, energy, and talent to the community.

Her grandfather was one of the founders of Springfield Technical Community College, and his name is on one of the academic buildings on the historic campus.

Jean Deliso doesn’t have any buildings named after her — yet. But she is certainly following the lead of the generations before her when it comes to being an entrepreneur and giving back.

“My work at the YMCA, the Community Music School, and Baystate is all about helping children and helping those in this community who are not as fortunate as I was growing up,” she said. “I had wonderful parents, great role models, and grew up in an entrepreneurial family who were community-minded and taught me that hard work, dedication, giving back, and being kind to others was the way to live.”

With regard to entrepreneurship, Deliso said she knew early on that she wanted to work for herself, and she’s been doing that for 20 years now. After working in the family business in Florida, she relocated to Western Mass., where she consulted with small-business owners on financial operations and maximizing performance. She then segued into financial planning and has become a regional leader in that field.

Jean Deliso, seen here speaking with attendees at a Baystate Health Foundation event, has continued a family tradition of being active within the community.

She has been a New York Life agent since 1995, and is associated with the company’s Connecticut Valley General Office in Windsor, Conn. She is currently enjoying her seventh year as part of New York Life’s Chairman’s Council, ranking in the top 3% of the company’s sales force of more than 12,000 agents.

While such honors and accolades are rewarding, Deliso finds it more rewarding to assist individual clients, guide them through what can be a very difficult process at times, and help them make the right decisions to set them up for a financially stable future.

“Most people in life think they have it figured out and that they’re all set, but the reality is, they’re not,” she said. “We’re all very busy people, and, because of that, we don’t take care of ourselves.”

This is particularly true with women, she noted, adding that they often outlive their husbands and, too often, are not involved in the family’s financial planning.

“I like to educate women because I cringe when I hear the words, ‘oh, I’ll let my husband take care of that,’” Deliso said. “The value of a woman is so important, and I think we, as women, undervalue ourselves a lot.”

So, Deliso and her “small but mighty staff,” as she describes it, helps clients set goals and objectives, and then assists them with getting from point A (where they are) to point B (where they want to be, up to retirement and then through it).

“I will find the disconnects from where they are versus where they want to be, and I help them build this bridge to get them to where they want to be,” she said, adding that this sometimes includes asking difficult questions.

“She is a believer in developing positive assets for youth — whether through improved medical care, quality programs for children before, during, and after school hours, or gaining self-awareness through the power of music.”

These include ‘have you thought of the what-ifs?’ and ‘are you prepared?’

All too often, the answers the answer to those questions is ‘no,’ she went on, adding that she has a passion for turning ‘no’ into ‘yes.’

Balance Sheet

To get this point across, Deliso summoned a case from very early in her career — new clients who provided a critical lesson in being ready for one of those ‘what ifs.’

A young couple in their 30s had two young children and wanted to buy a house. Deliso sat down with them and talked about their goals and asked them those difficult questions mentioned above, especially the one about what would happen if something happened to one of them.

The couple decided they wanted college taken care of for their two children, and also wanted to take care of their mortgage. So, Deliso put them on a savings plan, bought them life insurance, and got them on track to start saving money.

Two years after she started working with this couple, she got a call from the husband: his wife passed away at the age of 32.

His first question, Deliso recalled, was ‘how am I going to do this?’ Her quick answer was that he could do it because of the plan she put in place for him.

“From that moment, those two children went to college because we put money aside for that college education,” she said. “We paid off most of the mortgage because I made sure that that family would be fine if one of those incomes went away, and that’s exactly what happened. This was so powerful that it cemented me in this career.”

Likewise, her family’s deep commitment to the community cemented in her the need to get involved and stay involved. And, as noted, this involvement often involves institutions and initiatives with missions focused on families and children.

Berg summed up this commitment in his nomination of Deliso.

“In addition to impacting the lives of her clients, she has influenced, both directly and indirectly, countless lives through her volunteer efforts at the Baystate Health Foundation, the YMCA, and the Community Music School,” he wrote. “As can be seen in the agencies with which she has given so much time, she is a believer in developing positive assets for youth — whether through improved medical care, quality programs for children before, during, and after school hours, or gaining self-awareness through the power of music. This dedication to our youngest community members is truly an investment in the next generation of our community’s leaders.”

Elaborating, Berg noted that how Deliso serves the community is as important as where she trains those efforts, specifically with enthusiasm that is contagious and strong leadership.

“When Jean presents to the Baystate Health Foundation board of trustees, she strives to make her words resonate, to encourage introspection, and to promote enthusiasm,” he wrote. “Her passion is a reminder to all trustees why they have chosen to commit themselves to moving the foundation mission forward and the true impact it has on its beneficiaries. Jean is exactly what you would want in a leader.”

Her leadership skills were recognized, and applauded, by the Professional Women’s Chamber, which named her Woman of the Year in 2013.

Investments in the Community

As noted, there were several nominations for the Woman of Impact honor with Deliso’s name on them. Collectively, they do a fine job of explaining why she was chosen.

In hers, Judy Moore, director of Client Management at Deliso Financial, noted that working for Deliso has given her an inside look at all the hard work she invests in order to ensure her clients get the best service possible.

“Working for her for 11 years, I can attest to the fact that her high level of professionalism and ethics is astonishing, and her clients reap the benefits of that on a daily basis,” said Moore. “She never tires of giving back to the community and making lives better through her various work, both professionally and altruistically.”

Those sentiments effectively sum up both Deliso’s life’s work and her commitment to the community. In both realms, she always has one eye on today, and the other on tomorrow.

“What I do for a living makes a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “If I can make an impact on someone’s life, that’s a good day.”

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

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