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Commentary

Coaching Confidence and Catering to All Levels of Wealth

Charlotte Geletka helps clients feel secure in their financial decisions.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Q3 2021 issue of Morningstar magazine. Click here to subscribe.

To Charlotte Geletka, too many people lack a clear sense of direction and purpose with their finances. Managing money is not something taught in schools, and all too often, the average person is too intimidated to speak up.

“A lot of people do not have financial confidence,” says Geletka, managing partner and owner of Silver Penny, an Atlanta-based advisory firm. “Our industry has been pretty exclusive.”

This has been the case with some of Geletka’s female clients who have called on her after unexpected events such as divorce or the death of a spouse. These women often aren’t the money decision-makers in the relationship. In one case, a widow didn’t feel confident to make big or small financial decisions. Geletka worked with her to construct a financial plan and develop an investment strategy.

“I wanted her to feel comfortable to ask even the most basic questions,” Geletka says. “I wanted to translate the industry lingo, which can sometimes make women investors feel excluded.”

Geletka, 40, has built a practice around coaching people to be better stewards of their own money. She likes to focus on the financial planning and leave the stock-picking to third-party asset managers.

“The value I bring as an advisor is helping the individual investor make decisions aligned with their plan,” she says. “My time is best spent in the nitty-gritty of financial planning.”

The approach resonates with clients. Geletka has steadily built her business over time. The firm has five other advisors, including partner Jason Walker, with about $500 million of assets under management. Most customers are retirees with $500,000 to $5 million in assets, but Geletka has structured fees to allow anyone to come to her for financial planning.

Geletka charges a 1% fee for investment management for assets up to $250,000, and 0.75% thereafter. But for clients with less in assets, she also charges flat fees ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the complexity of the work.

“I don’t want my business model to stand in the way of giving people good financial advice,” Geletka says. “A lot of young professionals don’t have the asset size to be served by traditional wealth management.”

Earning a Slumber Party
Geletka was encouraged to learn about money from her parents: “They always told me, ‘Girls can be good at money.’” Her father was a financial planner and steered her to open a money market account to earn a higher interest rate than she would in a savings account.

Her mom taught her the importance of earning one’s keep, by tying rewards to chores. Geletka would take out the trash, mop floors, and clean the bathroom, accumulating points that would allow her to enjoy treats such as renting a movie. Sleepovers were the most expensive item, so she would enlist friends to help her do chores to help them all qualify for a slumber party.

After graduating from college in 2003, Geletka faced a tough job market. She worked as a claims adjuster for an insurance company, a position she describes as “clock in, clock out.” She wanted to make more of an impact, something that she saw her father had. She landed at Lincoln Financial as a retirement consultant, signing up college professors who opted out of the university pension plan at North Carolina State University, her alma mater.

She became a financial advisor at Lincoln Financial in 2007, following in the footsteps of her father, Robert Cowan, and joining his business, Cowan & Kohne Financial Group. Her confidence as an advisor grew over time. One symbolic example was how she dressed. In her days under the Lincoln Financial umbrella, she wore gray suits to fit in with the men. She eventually realized that blending in was preventing her from differentiating herself and shed the suits for dresses in colors such as pink, allowing her to stand out. She says her clients liked the change.

She’s also differentiated her practice by getting people to focus on life goals. That philosophy helped her land one of her most personally influential clients, a 70-year-old man with ambitious travel aspirations for retirement. She says he told her she was the only one willing to approve a five-year travel budget to travel the world.

“I’m one of the few financial advisors that will actually encourage you to take money out of your account if it makes sense.” Geletka says. “I think he wanted permission, to say, ‘Hey, can I take this large amount of money out to travel?’”

The retiree and his wife were four years into the travel plan when he died suddenly in 2018. Geletka spoke at his funeral, which gave her an affirmation of her approach. “This isn’t about money,” she says. “This is about people’s lives, goals, hope, dreams, and fears.”

Penny Wise
Geletka has also reshaped her practice in recent years. After purchasing her father’s book of business in 2017, she added like-minded advisors and renamed her practice Silver Penny, inspired by the story of how the United States in 1943, to preserve copper for World War II, started making pennies out of steel, coating them in zinc.

“Our business is built on the same spirit,” Geletka says. “We’re trying to help you think about money from an innovative perspective in terms of that it can help you reach your goals, and that money is not an end in itself. It’s also the smallest denomination of money—what is more simple than a penny?”

The name is a break from industry nomenclature. “I’ve never loved the term wealth management, because a lot of the people I work with don’t consider themselves wealthy, but they still need to meet with a financial advisor,” Geletka says. 

She leaves the investing part of the business to third parties, such as Brinker Capital Investments, Envestnet, and Morningstar Managed Portfolios. Her father has money in Morningstar’s Tortoise portfolio, which invests in undervalued companies with durable competitive advantages and strong balance sheets. Her husband owns the firm’s Hare portfolio, which uses a growth-at-a-reasonable-price approach to invest in companies with strong and growing competitive advantages. “That’s fun to watch,” she says.

Geletka also serves on the Morningstar Advisory Board, which is composed of financial advisors who give product feedback.

Geletka’s focus on coaching, planning, and empowering goes a long way with her female clients. It’s something to note in a field where men still make up 77% of all Certified Financial Planners, according to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. 

“Women investors no longer want to be told what to do by an ‘expert.’ They want to be engaged in the process,” Geletka says.

Regardless of gender, that must resonate with clients.

Learn More about Charlotte Geletka
Charlotte Geletka, CFP, CRPC, is the founder and managing partner of Silver Penny Financial Planning.

How she caught our eye: An accomplished advisor who has built a firm that caters to all levels of wealth.

Career path: Obtained her degree from North Carolina State University, graduating summa cum laude in 2003 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in communications and Spanish language and literature. After working a year as a claims adjuster, she got a job as a retirement consultant at Lincoln Financial Group, selling plans to college professors. She started working as an advisor at her father’s firm, Cowan & Kohne Financial Group, in 2007, and would eventually buy his book of business in 2017, renaming it Silver Penny.

Personal: Married, with two kids, ages 7 and 11. She serves as a board member for the Young Life Atlanta Project, a faith-based organization aimed at helping adolescents. The group’s Developing Future Leaders is a leadership program that aids young adults of color who want to make an impact as leaders in their communities. She also loves to play tennis and collect sand from beaches around the world.

Favorite investments: Exchange-traded funds, for their low cost, broad exposure, favorable tax treatment, and intraday trading.

Charles Keenan is a freelance financial journalist.

Photography by Lynsey Weatherspoon.

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