Wealth and Wellness
TGS Financial Advisors leads young physicians and other high-earning professionals down the path to financial independence
by Bill Donahue

The life of a physician comes with its share of considerable rewards, but the route to success is often long, arduous and fraught with risk. Even after the residencies and fellowships have come to an end, many young physicians discover the uphill climb has only begun. Years of schooling and intensive training may have prepared a physician to effectively treat patients, but the burden of a heavy debt load and other unexpected challenges can obscure the path to financial independence.

One local financial services firm, Radnor-based TGS Financial Advisors, is determined to reverse that trend.

Founded in 1990 by David A. Burd, CFP®, and James S. Hemphill, CFP®, ChFC®, TGS Financial Advisors recently introduced a new program called TriageMD™. The firm designed this three-year wealth planning program to help young doctors establish impactful habits and build solid financial foundations. Analyzing baseline insurance protections, optimizing savings, paying down debt and getting started with an investment strategy are essential to making this happen. Physicians can participate in the customized program for a flat fee of $5,000 per year, according to Hemphill, managing director and chief investment strategist for TGS Financial Advisors.

“There is no shortage of 55-year-old doctors with $2 million in assets, but it’s the folks who are just starting out their careers who need the most help,” he says. “The first three years of a doctor’s practice establish a financial trajectory that is extremely difficult to alter after that period. It’s a time of transition, because these are people who have been working 60 to 70 hours per week for not a lot of money and now they’re finally getting their first real paycheck. On top of getting a practice off the ground, maybe they’re looking to buy a house and working on paying down an average of $180,000 in debt [from medical school].

“All of this is happening to them at once,” he continues, “and they need help in making these crucial decisions on an informed, deliberate basis.”

In terms of accumulating wealth in relation to income, Hemphill cites research suggesting physicians significantly underperform when compared with individuals in other high-earning professions. Also, despite their higher incomes, many doctors endure greater stress and tend to worry more about their personal financial situations. Burd and Hemphill first sought to address these phenomena in their 2013 book, “Pay Yourself First: A Financial Guide for Doctors Entering Practice.” With TriageMD, they expect to help physicians create a financial plan with sustainable results, using built-in metrics to make sure clients stay on track in reaching their goals.

“Doctors are used to being successful,” says Burd, who, like Hemphill, serves the firm as managing director. “Most of them were the first in their class in high school and continued to excel through college and medical school, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the knowledge and objectivity to be successful in all areas of their lives. That’s where we can help.”

Burd has an intimate understanding of the personal, professional and financial challenges doctors face, honed over 35 years of experience.

“I believe that our clients see a benefit in my counsel, but at the same time I benefit from their experience,” he says. “Doctors have a limited amount of time to get things done, so you have to understand what’s important to them and understand the pressures they are under in order to make recommendations. What’s on their mind a lot of times are things like the changing demands of HIPAA and the transition to electronic medical records, not their personal finances. Every doctor will tell you they went into their field in order to take care of patients, but now they’re dealing with all these other pressures.”

Although TriageMD focuses specifically on wealth planning for physicians, TGS Financial Advisors works with successful families of all backgrounds to build, maintain and preserve wealth across multiple generations. Nearly 100 percent of the firm’s business comes by way of referral, and with every client the relationship begins with an in-depth, in-person conversation about the client’s current situation and goals for the future. Often, a prospective client will reach out for guidance in light of an urgent concern, or what Hemphill calls a “spear in the chest” moment.

“Maybe it’s someone who is two years away from retirement and the thought of that change is overwhelming,” Hemphill says. “Whatever the situation, we begin by having a frank conversation, and that conversation is most useful to everyone when the client is doing most of the talking. We’re interested in the science and narrative of investing, and we’re systematic about managing wealth across generations. We live in a dynamic society where wealth generally does not persist, so in many cases it’s a matter of preserving a culture that builds wealth versus one that grew up with wealth. Usually, that founding generation didn’t come from money; they were immigrants to wealth, but their kids and grandkids grew up with wealth.

“Having the wealth transfer successfully usually comes from having the kids and grandkids involved so they have some degree of financial decision making,” he continues. “It’s a matter of the first generation helping the second generation build financial independence, and that doesn’t come by providing lifestyle support. You want the younger generation to have the experience of managing capital, so instead of making a $14,000 gift, give them money to start up a Roth IRA.”

TGS Financial Advisors’ defining purpose remains the same as it was upon its founding. Burd and Hemphill, who first met as students at Swarthmore College, cut their teeth with large national stock brokerage firms. By the late 1980s, they had become disillusioned with the industry and felt they could serve their clients more effectively by joining forces in their own independent firm. TGS Financial Advisors has evolved significantly in the 25 years since. Besides the addition of innovative programs such as TriageMD, the firm has adopted a 100 percent fee-based pricing structure. Also, the firm sells no proprietary products, meaning advisors are focused solely on making decisions that will best suit clients’ individualized goals for the future.

Likewise, TGS Financial Advisors’ team of financial professionals and support staff has grown exponentially to accommodate client demand. At present, the firm employs a group of 16, ranging from seasoned individuals such as Burd and Hemphill to younger advisors who will lead the firm into the next generation. A network of third-party professionals—attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, etc.—provides additional support, with TGS Financial Advisors serving as the proverbial “quarterback” so all pieces of the puzzle work together in a complementary fashion. Collectively, the firm manages approximately $300 million in assets for about 250 households across the country.

“We’re fiduciaries, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” says Burd. “Every client has different professionals who touch their life. Our job is to get those professionals working together. The analogy I use with clients is to pretend as if they’re the owner of a football team and to think of us as a coach. We’re here to help you execute on the game plan, move the different pieces around and make sure everything is working together to help you get to where you want to be.”

Aside from helping clients, the principals of TGS Financial Advisors contribute their time and energy to a number of philanthropic causes. As one example, Burd and Hemphill have used their love of cycling to lead Team TGS in locally based cycling events that raise funds for local organizations devoted to improving the health of the community. This includes two 150-mile treks—the Bike MS: City to Shore Ride, which supports research and services that assist people living with multiple sclerosis, and the Ride to Conquer Cancer, which raises funds to finance vital programs for people affected by cancer at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.

TGS Financial Advisors
170 N. Radnor Chester Road, Suite 110
Radnor, PA 19087
610-892-9900 | 800-525-4075
www.tgsfinancial.com | www.triage-md.com

Different types of investments and/or investment strategies involve varying levels of risk, and there can be no assurance that any specific investment or investment strategy (including the investments purchased and/or investment strategies devised or undertaken by TGS), or any non-investment related consulting services, will be profitable or prove successful. A copy of TGS’ disclosure Brochure discussing its advisory services and fees is available upon request at 610-892-9900.

Photograph by Jody Robinson