Getting to Know You: Matthew Fassnacht, Financial Advisor

Matthew Fassnacht entered the workforce at the age of eight years old delivering newspapers in his hometown of Upper St. Clair, PA. It was through this job that he learned the value of hard work and perseverance.

In school, his inherent personality traits of drive, duty, self-discipline, and tenacity served him well in both academic pursuits and sports. Matthew went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting at Clemson University, while also meriting a spot on the varsity football team as a walk-on linebacker. Upon graduating from Clemson, he settled in Georgia.

Not soon thereafter, a few friends asked for his input on investments and tax planning strategies, which he willingly gave. Matthew’s advice proved very beneficial, and the success he achieved in growing their assets and protecting them from tax penalties caused his friends and family to refer new clients to him, and he was more than happy to oblige. It was in this fashion, which is to say organically, that his private financial advisory practice began. Within the same general time frame, Matthew Fassnacht studied for and attained his Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP), and Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) credentials.

At that point, Matthew Fassnacht was offered jobs by a handful of financial industry leaders, but turned them all down in favor of starting his own registered investment advisory firm (RIA) Meridian Investment Partners, motivated in part by the difficult lessons he had already learned about managing wealth, and in part by his own innate impulse to help people achieve financial security and independence.

What do you currently do at your company?

I manage investment portfolios for clients to obtain the highest returns possible for their given risk level. I also maximize their after-tax returns. My goal is to give my clients financial freedom, whether that be through their investments or through helping them manage their income efficiently.

What defines your way of doing business?

I treat people as I would want to be treated. I want to guide them in the right direction with regard to their finances. The way I work is not guided by how I can benefit, but by putting the best interests of my clients first. If I do well for them, they will seek my advice again in the future and connect me with new clients. That is the most effective way for me to be successful; by letting everyone I work with know they are in good hands.

What keys to being productive can you share?

Listening is the best way to be productive. Just listening to people can bring so much knowledge. It allows me to focus on what is best for whoever I am working with. Obviously, because of my position, I primarily hear about their financial situations and what goals they have, but I have found that when I really listen to everything they say, I can do more. We might be talking about their family and, in my head, I am thinking about how, in a few years, paying for their children’s college education may be a logical goal for them. Listening to my clients helps me stay on top of things longer-term and to be ready with advice when that time comes.

Tell us one long-term goal in your career.

I tend not to set specific goals because I’ve learned that once you reach a certain goal, it’s not very satisfying. You just keep setting new goals. I know I want to work as long as possible. Financial freedom is something I would love to see every one of my clients attain. It’s possible with the right person to help to navigate investments, tax strategies—things an ordinary person may not fully understand. But I really do enjoy seeing my clients really grasp new information and reach their goals.

How do you measure success?

I measure success in the way I make others feel about their financial situations. If my clients feel good about how I helped solve their issues, then I feel that I’ve accomplished something. It really isn’t about how much money I make through consulting and providing guidance, but rather it is stuff like helping a family afford college for their kids. It’s helping someone prepare for retirement, or helping them fund a well-earned vacation. Those are the good moments for me. That’s what I work for.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career? 

I have learned to communicate better with people. When I first began, I could be a little too direct with certain things. However, the longer I’ve worked in this profession, the better I have become at communicating effectively without being too abrupt. I had to learn that not everyone understands the financial landscape as much as someone in my specialty. Perfecting my ability to communicate clearly has only improved my outcomes. It’s a valuable lesson to learn in any field, I think.

What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in your field?

I would recommend starting with a major firm in order to fully understand the conflicts inherent to their systems. They can sometimes go against the interest of clients and work more to forward the goals of their shareholders. Once you experience that, you can determine if working in such an environment is in alignment with your personal values. If it is, then you can continue in the field and be successful. However, if you realize there are things that can be done differently, as I did, you can set yourself apart from those practices and also be successful. I think it’s a great idea to start at a firm like that because it will be the best way to really figure out your place in the financial arena. It’s best to learn that early on in your career, rather than looking back wishing you had done things differently.

What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?

I have a backyard orchard. It’s mostly fruit trees, and I enjoy tending to them and watching them grow. I love spending time with my family as often as I can. My kids and I love to go hiking and or swimming. We frequently travel to China to visit with my wife’s family when we can, too.

How would your colleagues describe you?

I work primarily one-on-one with my clients, so there isn’t much interaction with other professionals in my field. I don’t know if I can answer this question properly because of that. I know that the way I work for my clients is different from most well-known financial advisors. I want to help my clients make money, while many others in this field are looking at their own bottom line. I would like to think other professionals would see me as a hard-working, client-focused fiduciary.

What sets your business apart from others in your industry?

We are set up as a platform to be an independent advisor. We have independent relationships with brokers like Schwab and will use them as a broker, but we do not work directly with them. There is a clear separation of duties. I don’t have any actual custody of the assets. I make recommendations based on my clients’ needs and wants and have their permission to make trades on their behalf.

How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?

That has been a challenge for me at times. I have learned to listen to my wife when she reminds me to take a step back and spend some time away from work. She is an excellent source of guidance and support for me.

What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?

I had a football coach in high school once tell me that adversity introduces a man to himself, a man doesn’t introduce himself to adversity. I took that to mean that until you are in a high-stress situation, you won’t know how you will react. Everyone will inevitably have to deal with adversity and struggle in their lives, but it’s how you respond that makes you who you are. It is through those struggles that your real character emerges.