August 28, 2012
"At 54, I'm still not clear on what I want to do," said the 1979 accounting graduate with a chuckle.
Fred Wilkerson, a St. Albans, W.Va., native who now resides in Charlotte, N.C., is a wealth management advisor with Estate Strategies Group, a national network of advisors specializing in estate and business succession planning.
His success is due in part to the "breadth of opportunity that a degree from the B&E school created," he said. "The challenge for a lot of college-bound students, is that they don't know what they want to do. I didn't know either, but figured that a degree in accounting with lots of finance classes could take me lots of places."
Wilkerson said that his education has allowed him to create his own work opportunities. Upon graduating from WVU, he headed to Wake Forest Law School to become a tax lawyer, which he said provided him a great base for a career in financial, business and estate planning.
"(My job) is a form of preventative crisis management," said Wilkerson, who helps his clients find clarity in their goals and builds plans to help them achieve those goals.
"From my experience at Northwestern Mutual, it was apparent that business owners need to have someone to help guide them and help them wade through all the various (tax) disciplines (i.e. finance, accounting, legal, tax). I work with their lawyers, with their CPAs and their investment people. I'm not necessarily a coach, but someone who helps them find clarity," he said.
The nature of Wilkerson's business is very unpredictable. There is no way to know when the specific action plan he has created will need to come into play should a client pass away, become disabled or sell their company.
"It's impossible to get the perfect plan without the benefit of hindsight," and Wilkerson said there are over 400 strategies in his playbook, "but we strive to have a very good plan — because most people have NO plan."
According to Wilkerson, the effort to plan is not innate for most people. "We have a tendency to not do things that we don't understand or fear. Confusion rarely leads to wise decisions." The issue, he said, is that comprehensive planning has many moving parts which can be complicated. It takes an advisor with multiple disciplines and experience to be able to assist someone through the various processes. And Wilkerson certainly has a mastery of multiple disciplines. Different backgrounds in accounting and finance from B&E provide him a mathematic and financial view of the world. He also said his relationship skills are critical in client relations to cultivate a sense of trust.
To Wilkerson, the best reward is when clients have peace of mind and realize their goals. He recalled a time that a client committed suicide. When he went to the funeral home, the widow approached him and began to ask some questions. Wilkerson was able to tell her that their planning was sound and everything was going to be okay, alleviating some of the anxiety created by the tragic situation. "What she got through my effort was the peace of mind where she knew she would be okay," Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson's work also allows clients who are still living to enjoy life more fully.
"In the mid-2000's, one client's goal was to give $1 million to an organization," Wilkerson said. "He wanted to leave it when he passed away. We did the analysis and found out that he had enough money to live the lifestyle he wanted, and to give his children what he wanted them to have, and he could still make the $1 million gift now without negatively impacting his other goals. I told him he could wait, but he'd have a lot more fun giving the gift while still alive." As a result of Wilkerson's planning, the individual was able to enjoy his contribution to the organization.
"Most people with passion for a charitable institution or cause are interested in making large gifts, but don't understand their financial capacity," said Wilkerson, who added that it is not uncommon to surprise his clients with the options they have available.
As someone who facilitates philanthropy for his clientele, Wilkerson also makes it a point to give back to the institution that propelled his career. In addition to being a proud supporter of the WVU Foundation, he and his wife have organized a scholarship fund for students from St. Albans, W.Va. The scholarship focuses on students who give back, just as Wilkerson and his clients do.
"There are a lot of people who can gain academic scholarships. But we saw the value of growing up in West Virginia, and the quality of life and quality of people in the state. We look for people who are serving others," he said.
Wilkerson's son Jed just graduated with an M.B.A. from B&E in July. According to Wilkerson, the Monday following graduation, Jed joined his team at the Estate Strategies Group as an internal financial operator. It looks like, for the Wilkersons, an education from B&E is an important stepping stone to success.