The Key to Financial Security
Patricia Brennan of Key Financial helps clients stay on track when it comes to life’s most important priorities
by Leigh Stuart

The start of each new year brings a renewed focus to life’s priorities—with health, family and getting one’s finances in order at the top of the list. It’s interesting, though, because these concerns—finance, especially—are, in a way, timeless.

Patricia C. Brennan, better known to friends and clients as Patti, borrows a comparison from world-renowned timepiece maker Patek Phillippe, whose pieces, like a financial legacy, are never really owned—just worn and watched over for the next generation.

Along these lines, Brennan, a Certified Financial Planner® and president of wealth management firm Key Financial Inc., suggests wealth is something for most people that is not only accumulated over a lifetime but also done in an effort to leave a legacy, to bolster, rather than burden, a family’s finances down the line.

In a recent letter to her clients, Brennan wrote: “Sound planning can make a big difference not just for you, but as a secondary objective expressed by many clients over the years, for children and grandchildren, friends and relatives. In other words: the people you love. A person’s net worth is a symbol of sound financial planning. There is no greater joy than to hear the story of a grandparent or great grandparent who had the foresight to set aside a symbol of their years of hard work for those people they didn’t even know yet.”

Brennan, whose firm specializes in helping individuals navigate the important period of time just before and through retirement, has always focused her career on helping others achieve financial independence. Though, interestingly, she initially achieved this by focusing on a far different field: health.

Brennan even earned her degree in nursing from prestigious Georgetown University. Though a course in financial planning had piqued her interest when she was an undergraduate senior, she went on to pursue a career in the field she’d spent so much time studying. She spent four years as an intensive care nurse at Lankenau Medical Center, specializing in work with oncology patients; yet, throughout her time in health care, she remained drawn to matters of money management. Her collegues thought she was crazy, reading “financial magazines that put other people to sleep.”

In fact, it was while reading the daily paper one weekend many years into her nursing career that she came across a small advertisement that would change her life. Though Brennan says she really did love nursing, she could not overlook the chance to try her hand in the field she’d been captivated by, so she applied for the account executive position. Eleven interviews and three personality tests later, she surpassed 350 candidates to win the job.

Brennan is quick to say, however, that the fields of health care and finance are not all that different. The two “require surprisingly quite similar skill sets,” she notes, as well as a number of commonalities in how people approach and worry about them. For example, Brennan says, “In the intensive care unit, things happen very quickly, just like in finance. There’s an ‘if, then’ protocol to follow. It’s the same with a financial plan.”

She notes also that health and wealth are at the top of the list of most people’s concerns. “When people think about the things that are most important to them, they think about health and money,” Brennan explains. “There are strong emotions connected to both of those issues.”

One such emotion—and one that can cause a great deal of unintentional harm—is fear. “People ignore symptoms, procrastinate” and “put their heads in the sand” when life-altering issues arise. In the case of illness or financial turmoil, the story is the same: Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

At 5 feet 2 inches, Brennan has been recognized as a giant in the financial services industry by the likes of Barrons, Worth Magazine and the prestigious London-based Financial Times as one of the top 100 women in the United States. The goal of these lists is to identify best practices using algorithms that each publication believes makes a top advisor. “The key is to look at everything, and take a holistic approach to optimize on several levels, not just rate of return. After 30 years, you figure out how to take care of people the way they need to be taken care of,” she says. “There’s always a solution. As worried and upset and depressed as you may feel, I can look you in the eye and say ‘There is always a solution. We just need to figure out what that is for you.’”

Brennan has no shortage of means to address such problems. For example, some people will find they’re more successful if they reevaluate their goals; some will want to save more; some will do well to reposition their portfolio. It is paramount, Brennan says, to define the goal and keep it in mind.

Analogizing one’s navigation of the treacherous world of finance to a sea voyage, she says, “If you’re on a ship, you need to know how to get from ‘A’ to ‘B,’ but storms will come and blow you off course. The most important thing is to recognize that you’re actually off course, and ask ‘What do we need to do from where we are now?’

“Every client’s situation is unique,” she continues. “The ‘cookie cutter’ solutions that some people out there talk about are just plain dangerous.”

Such “one size fits all” solutions include those that attempt to create a mathematical formula utilizing, for example, a person’s age, dollars to invest and a certain type of investment. Brennan and the advisors on her Key Financial team help their clients by taking the exact opposite approach.

“Every client has their own living, breathing financial plan that is updated every single night,” she says. “They have their own personal website where they can see can see all their accounts—banking, 401(k), brokerage account … no matter where it’s held, everything comes into one portal.”

The exclusive program even offers clients a suite of projections based on those numbers that can show where a client is predicted to be in one year, 10, 30 years or beyond, as well as a sensitivity analysis that helps to determine what could “sink their ship.”

“The one thing we can’t do is predict the future,” Brennan says. “Not with health and not with the markets. Everything is subject to change; people lose their jobs, children decide to go to grad school or the wedding costs twice what the client thought it would. Recognizing this in advance with a ‘Plan B’ can make all the difference in the world.”

Key Financial Inc.
1045 Andrew Drive, Suite A
West Chester, PA 19380

Securities and Advisory Services offered through Royal Alliance Associates, Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC. Insurance services offered through Patricia Brennan are independent of Royal alliance Associates, Inc.  Advisory services offered through Key Financial, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor, not affiliated with Royal Alliance Associates, Inc.

Patti’s Points for 2015
Patti Brennan, Certified Financial Planner® and a president of Key Financial Inc., offers a few tips to savvy investors looking to start the year on the right fiduciary foot (noting, of course, that “any summary of financial markets can often be far more interesting than it is useful or actionable”).
* Determine your goals. Investors, be they of an age for retirement or those just joining the work force, can plan most accurately if they approach investing with a goal in mind. “Once you determine what that looks like for you,” Brennan says, “it’s simply a matter of running the numbers—which helps to determine if any action is needed—and what to do.”
* Diversify. Investing really comes down to minimizing regret. “Some clients will regret missing out on huge gains, while others regret participating in huge losses,” Brennan says. “Historically, diversification has been the only way to balance these two regrets over time.”
* Monitor your progress. Minimizing taxes and monitoring not only cash flow but also how one’s investments are progressing over time will help to address any issues early, which, Brennan says, can make an immeasurable difference in success. Addressing your estate plan is also a “key” to the family’s success.

Photograph by Jody Robinson