Grab your favorite beverage (coffee, margarita, etc.), sit back, and relax because you are in for a big story.
It’s time to ring in part two of our meet the team blog series, and we couldn’t be more excited.
Last time, we spoke with our VP Aaron Terwedo about his journey to financial planning. He highlighted the fact that for him, financial planning is more than a career. It’s an opportunity to be there for others authentically and wholeheartedly. It’s also an avenue for confidence in his family’s future. Throughout his story, we gleaned the many benefits of quality financial advice: confidence, clarity, hope, and promise for the future.
Let’s start today’s post off with a question.
What makes TFS different from other financial planning firms?
For founder and CEO Dale Terwedo, it isn’t just the decades of experience, education, or credentials. It’s also not only the demonstrated knowledge of financial markets or fancy planning software.
Instead, it’s the honest and genuine relationships formed with each client they serve. These relationships are the lifeblood that’s sustained the company for the last 38 years and will be the catalyst that propels TFS into the future.
We’re delighted to bring you this slice of Dale’s story.
This week, Dale was in the hot seat. We enjoyed speaking with him about what financial planning means to him and how his unique life experiences have shaped his outlook on his life and career, family, and other relationships with clients, friends, and loved ones.
Readers, let me ask you:
- How many financial advisors host clients at their houses for annual vacations (and actually enjoy it)?
- How many advisors value the relationships they form with their clients over the dollars and cents they make?
Dale’s passion for financial planning and zeal for life is evident in how he’s built the practice and serves clients. Without further ado, let’s dive in.
Question: What is your career history?
Answer: How much time do you have? I’m just kidding! I’ve been working for several years—started full time at 15. I grew up fast and always did what I had to do to keep moving forward.
At 15, I packed my bags and moved out of my mother’s house in California to rent a small bedroom in Tacoma from my stepmother. I enrolled myself in high school and quickly immersed myself in this environment. I found a love and talent for science, math, community, and sports.
After a rigorous application process and a nomination from our Senator, I was headed to the Military Academy at West Point. However, a required shoulder repair ultimately took me out of the process, and I left the Army.
After the military, I hopped a plane back out West and didn’t have a clear sense of my next move. A few years back in my hometown in LA left me itching to get back to the Seattle area.
In 1979 I returned to the Seattle area and began selling dictation equipment and wasn’t half bad at it either. I was that rare combination of a numbers guy and a people person—an anomaly, to be sure, but two of my greatest strengths.
I was active in my church, and at 23, became president of the church board and in charge of a million-dollar budget. The pastor encouraged me to look into the insurance business, and within a few years of being licensed, I rose to be one of the top agents in the country in our company. I also taught myself about the world of investing and money management and began to really enjoy it.
In 1983, I took a giant leap of time, faith, and money and opened Terwedo Financial Services. The business has undergone several changes throughout the years, like adding investment advice, becoming independent, offering comprehensive financial planning, and eventually morphed into the RIA firm, TFS Advisors.
I’ve always been self-taught and used that drive to earn my qualifications, including Certified Financial Planner®, Chartered Financial Consultant®, and Behavioral Financial Advisor™.
Diligence, determination, fortitude, and passion have marked my career path and are traits I try to embody every day.
Question: What drew you to financial planning?
Answer: As a young adult, I had no choice but to be self-sufficient. I quickly learned the value of hard work, and I had big dreams for my life. While I always had a natural inclination for numbers, finance savvy was a way for me to help build the life I envisioned for myself and my family.
As in most families, financial literacy wasn’t taught at home or in school, but rather learned as an adult—including an ill-fated degree from the “School of Hard Knocks.” We seek to empower families to make healthy choices with their money, without the sting of earning the “hard knock” badge of honor.
The more entrenched I became in the industry, the more I could see a whole world of opportunity not only for my family but for so many other families, too. I realized that the type of work I wanted to do, and the type of person I wanted to be for my clients, I couldn’t do without being an independent firm.
I wanted TFS to be a significant place, one where people could become empowered to improve their lives. We’ve always loved making a difference for people and do so in various ways, from joining them on a new car search to negotiating bills to house hunting and more. We’re always there for our clients no matter what—like family.
Money can be a source of confusion and frustration for many people, and I set out to help them tell a different story.
Financial planning is a team sport, and every team needs a captain. Often, we’re considered the quarterback of your financial team. It’s our job to guide you through life’s transitions and give you the confidence and clarity to use your money in ways that honor your values and goals. It’s less important IF we are the quarterback, rather than, that you have one!
We also help you connect your financial plan with other integral professionals like your CPA, attorney, insurance broker, etc. It’s not uncommon for us to join clients in these meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. It also helps clients feel more comfortable knowing that we can all work together to help bring alignment to the many moving pieces of their financial lives.
Question: What do you love most about financial planning?
Answer: I’m not in the business of making deals or transactions. I’m in the business of building and sustaining relationships. For me, financial planning is first and foremost about establishing healthy, lasting, lifelong relationships.
Because relationships are all about trust and honesty, these elements are essential to building an authentic financial plan. For me, there’s simply no other way to do business.
And that doesn’t mean that I just want to get to know my clients. Clients must get to know me as well. There is a lot of value in being vulnerable, as it forges strong connections between people and opens the door to real change.
For many people, talking about money is more personal than talking about family. You have to feel at ease with your advisor to open up about your paycheck and life savings, as well as your hopes and visions for the future.
We’ve helped clients with terminal illnesses structure their finances and have walked with their surviving spouses and family members as they navigate those challenging times of losing a loved one.
We’ve heard people talk about protecting and caring for their spouse should they pass first and the legacy they want to leave behind for their family and even the world at large.
These are moving conversations, and because of the type of firm we’ve built, we are right in the middle of them. We bear witness to so many people’s life’s work, dreams, and stories. It’s really an honor to be such a trusted person in our client’s lives.
As I always say, many of our friends are clients, and many of our clients become friends. This statement is a testament to the care we bring to every interaction. Relationship-building is a hallmark of TFS, and I envision it will always be our prime differentiator.
Question: How have your personal experiences shaped the way you approach financial planning?
Answer: I like to approach life with a bit of fun, laughs, and a lot of gratitude. We all have different experiences that inform how we look at the world; mine just happens to put me face to face with people’s least favorite topic: mortality.
My kids started calling me el gato—the cat—because they were convinced I had nine lives. At 18, I was working two jobs to make ends meet. I finished the night shift, hopped onto my motorcycle sans helmet, and got into a bad car accident. I suffered head injuries but made a full recovery.
At 50, I was diagnosed with stage 3b colon cancer. Hospital walls and cancer jokes began to fill my days. After seven surgeries, six months of chemo, and a lot of prayers, laughs, and tears later, I was in remission. I was considered cleared after 5 years and remain so today—11 years later.
To celebrate my end of chemo and my love of flying, I went to an air race in Reno, Nevada. That fateful day happened to be the site of the infamous 2011 Reno air races crash, where I stood mere rows away from the crash. To come out of that arena with just a few shrapnel injuries felt like a miracle.
These experiences have helped me wear an even bigger smile on my face and keep my heart on my sleeve. I’ve come to value every relationship and interaction that I have with the people in my life. The lifelong friendships and connections I’ve formed with people over the years bring me so much joy, and it’s that life and spirit that drive the work I do for clients every day.
Question: What is it like to run a family practice?
Answer: TFS has always been a family practice. My wife Tara worked in the business for 30 years. No one cared for the clients quite as she could, and she handled the operational duties with great skill and care. After she retired, we brought Dessie to the TFS team. Her introduction is coming next!
My oldest son Ryan worked in the office for several years, but his terrific coding and technical skills led him to concentrate on different ventures. Once Aaron showed interest in financial planning, he came on board and slowly but surely worked his way up to partner. Nothing was handed to Aaron. He is an incredibly hard worker and earned his spot as a partner in the firm. He has immense “skin in the game” as he bought his share of the business.
Working with family can be exciting and fulfilling, and as the famous adage goes: if it were easy, everyone would do it. It’s not always easy flip-flopping between wearing my boss and dad hats, but we’ve found an outstanding balance that not only works for us but, more importantly, works for our clients.
Question: Tell us a little more about your family
Answer: I met my wife two months before I was going to leave Washington. Times were tough. Knee deep in the 1980 recession, I was out of work and needed a change of pace. A good friend of mine convinced me to come out on a blind date, someone his girlfriend knew from school.
The pizza shop was small and my budget for the evening was even smaller. I could barely afford the pizza and salad we split, but from the way Tara carried herself, I knew she was different.
Our group bounced from place to place that night, and by the end of it, Tara and I were inseparable. I saw her 3 times the first week, 5 times the second week, and by the third week, I saw her every single day until 2.5 years of marriage.
The night I got engaged, I didn’t know it. I’m a bit of a prankster, and for Tara’s birthday, I got her a toe sock that I wrapped in a tiny box. I then progressively wrapped it up in bigger boxes until it was the size of a TV. Naturally, I had her open the present at her house and invited her parents inside to watch her open it.
She was expecting a proposal and got a toe sock.
Pro Tip: Ask about the infamous toe sock saga of 1980 in front of Tara—her reaction says it all!
After that, I pinched pennies and raided my piggy bank to buy her perhaps the most minimal diamond available, and to my great fortune, she said yes. We were married on May 1—May Day—and just recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary.
Two kids, five grandchildren, a business, and half of a lifetime later, we’re still here, holding hands, smiling and laughing through the ups and downs. Together, we are reaching goals that we never thought possible. We put down roots, tend them with care, and watch them grow.
Question: What are your hobbies outside of the office?
Answer: I’m an outgoing and outdoors person. Anything where I can be outside, I will, whether on the water, on top of a mountain, or spending time with my wife out on the patio.
Another one of my passions is flying. Growing up, I never had the money for training and air-time. So when I became an empty nester at 40, I finally had the time and the funds to try my hand at flying a plane. I zipped through the training, classes, and hours requirements and became certified to fly multi-engined planes in two years.
But I wanted my pilot’s license to be for more than just me, which inspired me to fly for Angel Flight West. Angel Flight West is a nonprofit organization of volunteer pilots who, at their own expense, provide transportation to people who are financially distressed or have a time-critical medical condition.
I’ve found that being a pilot is similar to the work I do as a financial planner. A good flight needs a logical and precise plan. It also requires that you trust the instrument analysis, not necessarily what your body feels.
This parallels well with investing. Sometimes, investing may make your stomach drop, but that doesn’t mean you should abandon the carefully prepared plan. Sticking with the mission can sometimes be the more difficult choice, but it aims to keep you on the right path.
Question: Where do you see yourself and TFS in the future?
Answer: I’ve always wanted to build something that outlives me, something that could be my legacy. TFS is precisely that sort of place. It came from a place of providing for my family, and along the way, we were able to serve hundreds of families. I know we’re positioned to help many more in the future.
As I think about the next step in my career, I see myself staying deeply involved in the relationship elements of the practice and even morphing my role into a Retirement Coach. Stay tuned for more updates on that front!
I see TFS growing but not so much that it loses its boutique, family practice environment that has treated our clients and us so well over the years. We’re proud of the impact that we can have on client’s lives and simply want to keep doing more of that. We never want clients to feel like a number, frankly because they aren’t. It’s our joy to bring a personal, high-touch approach to every client interaction and that won’t change. This is one of our core values and will be for anyone else who joins our team in the future.
Dale’s story is one of resilience, ingenuity, and determination. In founding TFS, he has helped hundreds of families discover clarity and confidence in their financial and personal lives.
Let’s explore the fundamental takeaways from Dale’s story.
- His proclivity for numbers and love of people led him to build a thriving financial planning practice.
- For Dale, financial planning is all about forming lifelong relationships, and that foundation of trust and mutual respect is the impetus to the process.
- Joy exists by spending your time and talents on the people, places, and things that matter most.
How TFS Can Serve You
As you can start to see, working with TFS is just different.
We care about learning what’s most important to our clients and helping them structure their finances to reflect their goals and values. We’d love to get to know you and your family! Schedule some time to talk with our team today.
Get ready for the last part of our series, where we talk with our incredible paraplanner, Dessie Spasov.