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Thought leadership in comprehensive wealth management

by Jul 13, 2022Advisor Interviews

Thought leadership in comprehensive wealth management

by Jul 13, 2022Advisor Interviews

Bradford D. Creger, AAMS, AIFA, CFS, CLTC, CPFA • Glendale, CA
BFF Financial Inc. • Centaurus Financial Inc.
Read full biography below

Proactive Advisor Magazine: Brad, what was your path to becoming a financial advisor?

My father was a stockbroker for well-known Wall Street firms, and my mother was an entrepreneur, owning several Baskin-Robbins franchise stores. I began working in the stores at an early age. I loved to work, and that trait has always been part of my makeup. My parents had a profound influence on me—both as great parents and as business role models.

I attended UCLA, where I majored in economics. Outside of my studies, my two great passions in college were baseball and music. Unfortunately, my baseball career was impacted by a serious illness my father was facing and an injury of my own. When I could finally focus on baseball, I had lost too much time and just missed making the team at UCLA. A close friend was in a band, and I got involved in the music scene at school. After graduation, I got a job at a music magazine. Within two years, I was the publisher of the second-largest music magazine in Los Angeles and getting ready to record an album as the lead singer and lyricist of a new rock band, Love Kills.

My father’s illness then took a turn for the worse. I made the hard decision to leave the music industry. I wanted to put my economics degree to good use in financial services. I joined CIGNA Financial Advisors, which offered the industry’s most comprehensive cross-disciplinary training program. I spent eight successful years with CIGNA, building my private wealth-management practice. I also covered national brokerage relationships, which offered estate and business-succession-planning services through investment brokers and partnered on financial-planning relationships with high-net-worth clients of other financial and CPA firms.

CIGNA Financial Advisors was purchased in 1997 by Lincoln and was renamed Sagemark Consulting. I continued to thrive there. While the organization had significant strengths, changes in the operating philosophy started me thinking about becoming an independent advisor. I made the move in 2000, founding my own firm. We reorganized and renamed the firm BFF Financial in 2020. The guiding philosophy is to provide comprehensive wealth management for individual and business clients, with an emphasis on estate and tax planning as the key differentiator. This includes access to the services of affiliated companies under the BFF umbrella focused on tax preparation, third-party 401(k) administration (TPA), employee benefits planning, and a full-service insurance agency. Our relationship with Centaurus Financial provides access to a full suite of investment products.

 

Talk about your firm’s clients and planning process.

Our practice focuses on two primary areas: The first is comprehensive wealth management for individuals and families. While we offer a family office approach typically reserved for high-net-worth clients—and we have many high-profile clients in business, sports, and entertainment—we will work with any client motivated to engage in the planning process. The second is managing the employee benefits for business-owner clients, including our own clients or those referred to us by other professionals.

The steps of the planning process vary depending on the client. Acting as a TPA offering services to 401(k) retirement plan sponsors is very different from the financial-planning services offered to individuals. But our promise is the same. We will work in a fiduciary manner to understand their specific goals; approach their objectives from a cross-disciplinary perspective; provide the necessary financial education; take a customized approach; and build a planning relationship for the long term, with the flexibility to address changing circumstances over time.

I have developed my own case design approach and planning software that is both heavily data-dependent and cognizant of the specific personality profile of each client. I track every aspect of a client’s life: their risk management, insurance, taxes, beneficiaries, assets and liabilities, benefits, future income streams, debt management, and so forth. After I find out everything I can about a client and their family, and what they want to accomplish, we develop appropriate solutions. I talk about three planning buckets to emphasize that each element of their plan has a specific purpose. There are what we call consumption, contingency, and custodial assets. Put simply, what do you need now and in the future for supporting a comfortable lifestyle, what needs to be earmarked for risk management and protecting your future, and what assets will likely be passed on to your beneficiaries?

There is significant customization for each client because everybody’s life circumstances and personality type are different. But tax law, estate-planning law, and investments and insurance all work the same, no matter who you are. But how clients elect to implement their plan is really the art of what we do and where it is most challenging and satisfying to bring their individualized plan to fruition.

Describe your broad investment-planning philosophy.

We assist clients in identifying their investment objectives, evaluating their risk tolerance, and analyzing their current portfolio. We help them determine appropriate asset allocation and explore alternative investment strategies that could play a valuable role. We do not have a predetermined investment approach. We build each client portfolio according to the plan objectives.

We complement our planning by offering clients access to an extensive portfolio of investment and insurance products, offered by leading companies that meet our strict due diligence criteria. We also provide access to our firm’s proprietary Market Momentum Relative Strength Portfolios, which seek maximum growth through the use of a “relative strength” investment-selection process identifying both individual stocks and exchange-traded funds.

Whether a portfolio strategy is managed directly by our firm or we are providing oversight of strategies provided by sophisticated third-party managers, we prioritize risk management through actively managed strategies.

Active money management can provide rules-based strategies that react to changes in the market environment. Client portfolios can be managed to mitigate the risk associated with steep market declines. We can also employ active strategies that can go inverse to the market and make money even in a down market. As opposed to a long-only approach, we believe there are times to play defense and times to play the offensive side of the risk cycle. Why? The math of market declines for those in retirement, or nearing retirement, shows that losses at the wrong time can be difficult to recover from. I believe this is a major differentiator for our firm—seeking growth opportunities when market conditions are favorable and seeking to reduce risk at technical market tops or when heading into unfavorable markets.

“We have set a high bar for our firm’s collective background and professional training. …”

What else differentiates your approach to guiding clients?

Although I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my parents, I also learned an unfortunate and compelling one. My father’s degenerative illness and subsequent early retirement, impairment, and steep medical expenses left our family in poor financial shape. Despite his financial background, he did not have in place the proper estate planning or the necessary insurance coverages. When I became a financial advisor, I made a commitment to go above and beyond in terms of understanding each client’s entire financial picture.

BFF Financial acts as a financial architect and provides clients with a blueprint that addresses the totality of their financial-planning needs. We shape the final plan with the client’s input and then act as a “general contractor” by coordinating and overseeing the services of other professionals they may use. We can also assist directly when it comes to implementing tax, insurance, legacy, and investment strategies. I believe the skill and expertise of the advisor are critical to this type of comprehensive approach—having a deep understanding of these disciplines. We have set a high bar for our firm’s collective background and professional training, knowledge base, and thought leadership. We are always questioning the status quo and seek to stay deeply informed on the markets, the economy, industry best practices, and financial products that are continually being developed and refined.

Bradford D. Creger, AAMS, AIFA, CFS, CLTC, CPFA, is the founder of BFF Financial Inc., a full-service advisory firm based in Glendale, California. He serves as chief economist and lead wealth strategist. Through BFF Financial and its affiliated companies, the firm offers individual and business clients an integrated approach to their comprehensive financial needs.

Mr. Creger was raised with his two brothers in Pasadena, California. His father was a stockbroker for national firms, and his mother owned several Baskin-Robbins franchise stores. Mr. Creger started working at the stores at age 13 and continued to do so throughout his school years. He says he was a strong student in high school, enjoyed music, was involved in school organizations, and played varsity baseball.

Mr. Creger attended UCLA, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics. Following college, he became deeply involved in the music industry in a variety of roles, including lyricist and lead singer of the rock band Love Kills and music magazine publisher and editor. He says his father’s serious illness at the time was a catalyst to leave the music industry and pursue a “more stable and lifelong career” in financial services.

He joined CIGNA Financial Advisors, which offered the industry’s most comprehensive cross-disciplinary training program. After eight successful years at CIGNA and its successor company, Sagemark Consulting, Mr. Creger decided to become independent and founded his own firm in 2000. This firm was reorganized and renamed BFF Financial in 2020.

Mr. Creger has completed the Personal Financial Planning Accelerated Program at the University of California, Irvine. He has earned nine industry professional certifications, including AAMS (Accredited Asset Management Specialist), AIFA (Accredited Investment Fiduciary Analyst), CFS (Certified Fund Specialist), CLTC (Certification in Long-Term Care), and CPFA (Certified Plan Fiduciary Advisor). Mr. Creger has been recognized for his expertise with special needs trusts and an innovative approach to open-architecture 401(k) plans. In 2022, he received his third Five Star Wealth Manager award.

Mr. Creger and his wife, who is a specialist in employee benefits and group insurance at BFF Financial, reside in the Los Angeles suburbs. In addition to spending family time with their two teenage children, they enjoy music, wine, golf, and attending sports and cultural events. Mr. Creger is a youth baseball and basketball coach and a Scout leader. He is a volunteer member of the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, a past president of the Pasadena Bond Club, and a past board member of the Friends of the Gamble House.

Disclosure: The financial consultants of BFF Financial are with and securities and advisory services offered through Centaurus Financial Inc., member FINRA and SIPC, a registered investment advisor. Fee-based planning services offered through BFF Wealth Management Inc., a registered investment advisor. Tax planning and tax preparation services offered through BFF Tax Pros Inc. BFF Financial and its affiliates and/or subsidiaries are not affiliated with Centaurus Financial.

Photography by Edward Carreon

New this week:

4 core values inform comprehensive wealth management

Brad Creger, AAMS, AIFA, CFS, CLTC, CPFA, is the founder, chief economist, and lead wealth strategist of BFF Financial Inc., a full-service advisory firm based in Glendale, California. He says, “Our mission at BFF Financial is to educate, empower, and motivate our clients while helping guide them through their life’s financial journey.”

Each BFF Financial client relationship is built on the foundation of four core values, which are described on the firm’s website:

  1. Exclusivity: “BFF Financial does not claim to be all things to all people. … We exclusively work with those who both value and respect our time as well as their own and are truly seeking our financial guidance and assistance.”
  2. Comprehensive service: “BFF Financial is an organization of wealth strategists who specialize in identifying and resolving complex estate, business transfer, retirement, and investment problems. Specifically, we look at all areas of your financial life and pull them together in a cross-disciplinary manner. …”
  3. Education: “… Working with BFF Financial is a distinctive experience. We do not deliver a prepackaged set of ideas, solutions, or financial products. We are committed to providing you with the information and financial education you need to make timely, informed decisions. …”
  4. Long-term relationships: “Your relationship with BFF Financial doesn’t end once we complete our initial work. … Given today’s complex and ever-changing tax laws, and because your personal situation and objectives are not static, the plan you develop today will rarely meet all of your needs in the future.”
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