It wasn't until Mal Makin walked into the basement of the building he'd just bought that he realized exactly what he was getting himself into.
“There had to be 100 yellow wires that just headed up and slumped down like a slide on a roller coaster, in a series of cobwebs headed off into the night,” he recalls. “I had no idea where they went.”
It would be quite a while before Makin could view his decision to move his firm to this spacious 93-year-old brick Georgian building as a good one. But, as usual, his timing proved impeccable.
Makin, a Westerly, R.I.-based financial advisor affiliated with Raymond James Financial, threw himself headlong into the renovations (he is a self-professed architecture buff). When the dust settled, his firm, Professional Planning Group, occupied a place of superior physical and symbolic standing in the community.
“I was delighted — he did a marvelous job on the building inside and outside,” says Dennis Algiere, a Rhode Island state senator from Westerly. “It's a showpiece — when you're coming into town, it's one of the first buildings you can see.”
Since moving into the building in 2003, Makin's practice has grown 40 percent. The firm now has 10 employees managing $550 million in assets. As an added bonus, his restoration project is being considered for an award by one of the state's historical societies.
In his 30-year career, Makin has made a habit of being in the right place at the right time — whether by jumping on a strategically located property or by inclining his business toward financial planning at a time when barely anyone else was leaning in that direction.
The latter came after a foray into the insurance business in the 1970s, which, he says, awakened him to the fact that relatively few investors had access to comprehensive financial services and planning — but that many were going to need such tools.
“It seemed to me that middle-income Americans were going to be confronted imminently with two things: an increase in taxes and increase in inflation, and that there'd be less of a government ability to handle the retirements of the elderly,” Makin says.
About this time, he caught wind of a new credential — Certified Financial Planner — and he pounced on it, driven by “a real sense that there was a profession in the making.”
After getting his CFP, he served on the national board of CFPs and helped write the CFP Board's code of ethics in the 1980s. He's no longer serving on the CFP Board, but continues to teach a course in ethics for the group.
His focus on long-term financial planning has struck a chord with his firm's customers, who now number more than 1,000. A typical Professional Planning Group household has a net worth of $1 million to $2.5 million. About $325 million of its assets under management are through a fee-based arrangements, and, of that, $200 million is managed with discretion, meaning the firm's six advisors handle the trading and portfolio management without having to get day-to-day approval from clients.
Makin is a fierce believer in fee-based advice, and he's incensed at recent regulatory probes of the fee-based practices because he thinks the regulators are encouraging a myopic view of the arrangement.
“Somehow, they have come to the conclusion that financial planning is nothing more than a transaction-oriented environment, but nothing could be further from the truth,” he says.
Still, these days life is good for Makin. With his renovations behind him, he's happy to be focused on managing money and helping clients — all within the walls of a building that is “the pride of the town.”