Active investment management’s weekly magazine for fee-based advisors

Family-focused financial planning and wealth management

by Jun 20, 2024Advisor perspectives

Family-focused financial planning and wealth management

by Jun 20, 2024Advisor perspectives

Kurt D. Zoeller, CWS • Chesterfield, MO​
Zoeller Asset Management • Cetera Advisors LLC
Read full biography below

Proactive Advisor Magazine: Kurt, what was your career path in becoming a financial advisor?​

I began my financial-services career right after college, entering the training program at FFP Securities in 1988. I was new to the industry, but FFP provided good training and support as I obtained my licenses. I started building my client base from contacts in my personal network, which eventually led to referrals. Initially, I was focused on consultative sales of mutual funds, annuities, and life insurance, always striving to understand the client’s overall financial objectives.

I later moved into a leadership position, taking on recruiting, training, and sales management responsibilities while continuing to serve my clients. FFP merged with First Allied Securities in 2008, and the firm is now part of Cetera Advisors. FFP and First Allied, and now Cetera, have all emphasized a strong financial-planning culture. This aligns well with my focus on goals-based planning and building strong relationships driven by each client’s evolving financial needs. Our affiliation with Cetera provides important resources, including access to money managers and experts in advanced retirement planning, insurance, taxes, law, and legacy planning.

To further my knowledge and skills, I attained the Certified Wealth Strategist designation in 2008. The process of earning this certification provided insights for delivering effective and comprehensive client outcomes and valuable strategies for building a more successful business model.

How do you position your firm?

I describe my practice as delivering family-focused financial planning and wealth management. It is gratifying to work with clients through multiple stages of their lives, and, hopefully, with the next generation of their family. Our approach is to help clients and their families build financial security.

As an independent firm, we have no obligation to sell proprietary products, allowing us to offer only the investment products and services we believe are best suited to our clients’ financial goals. Our objective for every client is to provide timely, unbiased wealth-management guidance with the highest level of integrity and service.

We often work with busy professionals and retirees, but we have clients of all ages and backgrounds. Our target demographic is individuals or couples in their 40s or 50s looking to retire in 10 to 20 years. They usually have three primary goals: properly funding their retirement plan, planning for their children’s education, and ensuring long-term financial security for their family.

“My goal is to work with my clients and their families for many years.”

Describe your overall planning process.

We use a comprehensive and disciplined approach to analyze the 13 wealth-management issues we find are most important to our clients, which fall under the broad areas of wealth accumulation, wealth protection, wealth distribution, and wealth transfer. I introduce these to new clients and prospects during our first meeting.

The specific areas we address are investment strategy and implementation, managing liabilities, insurance planning, stock option strategies, establishing a durable power of attorney, titling of assets, choosing an executor/trustee, structuring qualified retirement plan/IRA rollovers and distributions, business succession planning, gifting during life, charitable gifting during life and after death, and wealth distribution after death.

During my pursuit of the Certified Wealth Strategist designation, I learned effective approaches to address each of these issues. Introducing these issues is a valuable part of positioning my practice. I want clients and prospects to understand that we thoroughly review all aspects of their financial lives.

Our process includes a full discovery of their current financial situation and potential retirement-income sources, as well as an analysis of their risk profile. We then proceed through a multi-meeting planning process that consists of setting objectives and identifying priorities, analyzing and formulating recommendations, agreeing on plan strategies and implementation, and conducting periodic reviews of progress versus objectives. I want clients to think of our firm whenever they need to make financial decisions for their families or businesses.

A key resource for our practice is Cetera’s Advanced Planning Group, composed of highly credentialed legal and financial professionals. Their consultative approach provides guidance in wealth-transfer planning, retirement-distribution planning, business and succession planning, tax and stock option strategies, and life insurance and annuity planning. While I handle the core financial planning for each client, Cetera’s back-office support and sophisticated planning capabilities are invaluable resources for our clients.

My goal is to work with my clients and their families for many years. Some wealth-management issues may not be immediately relevant but become more important over time. Clients need to keep me informed of their changing situations and family dynamics, and I need to keep them updated on any adjustments to consider for their financial plan. Effective two-way communication is critical in helping them achieve their long-term financial goals.

Talk about your broad investment philosophy.

Each client’s investment plan is customized based on their financial-planning objectives, risk profile, and time horizons. Our approach focuses on goals-based investment planning, seeking results that help clients achieve their specific objectives rather than beating a market benchmark.

Those goals generally revolve around pre-retirement wealth accumulation, retirement-income planning, and long-term financial security for the family. To accomplish these goals, we typically look to various products that seek to produce income, managed investment accounts, life insurance products, and perhaps allocations to alternative investments less correlated to the equity and fixed-income markets.

For managed investment accounts, we may consider both equity and fixed-income strategy offerings from different third-party investment managers. These managers offer a variety of approaches—some tactical and some strategic—but all generally emphasize risk management, which can be achieved in different ways depending on a manager’s philosophy.

We spend a lot of time building an understanding of a client’s attitudes toward risk, as people’s perceptions often change with market conditions. Many feel more aggressive during a bull market but become risk-averse when the market declines sharply.

I educate clients about market cycles, risk management, diversification, active versus passive strategies, and the sequence of returns. The timing of investment returns is crucial, especially when a client is about to begin systematic withdrawals for income. Poor returns early on can derail an income plan, which is why we aim to mitigate risk and smooth out volatility in a portfolio, prioritizing long-term stability and steadier returns over benchmark comparisons.

We strive to achieve returns appropriate for each client’s financial situation and comfort level. Clients in mainly passive investments may have to endure extreme market fluctuations, which many cannot tolerate, making them less likely to stick with their investment plan. We believe an active, risk-managed investment approach offers retirement clients a higher probability of achieving their long-term goals and can also inspire greater confidence through full market cycles.

What provides the most satisfaction for you in working with clients?

Seeing clients engaging with their plan and gaining financial confidence is always rewarding. It’s clients like these that fuel my passion and enthusiasm for my practice every day.

Related Article: Why ‘timing’ is critical for investment returns ​

​Kurt D. Zoeller, CWS, is the owner and principal financial advisor of Zoeller Asset Management in the St. Louis, Missouri, area. Mr. Zoeller says his firm “provides comprehensive advice and counsel to individuals, families, and business owners.”

Mr. Zoeller was raised in St. Louis, where he and his sister attended parochial school. His father worked for a local bank, primarily handling municipal bonds, and his mother worked as an administrative assistant before volunteering at the Catholic grade school he and his sister attended. Mr. Zoeller graduated from St. Louis University High School, a Jesuit prep school, where he was a strong student and involved in clubs and musical productions. He was a member of the National Honor Society and was nominated by the American Legion to attend Missouri Boys State week, which encouraged civic leadership. “My parents emphasized academics and supported all the extracurricular activities my sister and I took part in,” he says.

Mr. Zoeller earned a bachelor’s degree in 1988 in business administration with a concentration in finance from the University of Notre Dame. He says the coursework provided an excellent grounding in financial analysis, economic theory, investments, banking, and insurance. He was part of the competitive student manager program, working many hours as a manager for women’s basketball and men’s football.

Mr. Zoeller began his financial-services career in the training program at FFP Securities, building his client base through his personal network and focusing initially on mutual funds, annuities, and life insurance. He later took on a leadership role in recruiting, training, and sales management while continuing to serve his clients. He says his focus on relationships and planning was a good fit with the financial-planning culture found at FFP and at the merged broker-dealer formed with First Allied Securities in 2008 (now Cetera Advisors). Mr. Zoeller earned the Certified Wealth Strategist (CWS) certification in 2008.

Mr. Zoeller and his wife, a CPA, have two adult children. They enjoy outdoor activities together, especially skiing in Colorado. Mr. Zoeller says he enjoys travel, music, and sports, and has run six marathons. He is a member of the Chesterfield Regional Chamber of Commerce and a group of civic and business leaders working to “improve the quality of life in the St. Louis area.”

Disclosure: Registered principal offering securities through Cetera Advisors LLC, a registered broker-dealer. Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Cetera Investment Advisers LLC, a registered investment adviser. Cetera firms are under separate ownership from Zoeller Asset Management. 15455 Conway Road, Suite 340, Chesterfield, MO 63017. For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult with a tax or legal advisor. Neither Cetera Advisors LLC nor any of its representatives may give legal or tax advice.

Certified Wealth Strategist and CWS are registered trademarks of Cannon Financial Institute.

Photography by Corey Woodruff


Maximizing client satisfaction with expert support

Kurt D. Zoeller, CWS, is the owner and principal financial advisor of Zoeller Asset Management in the St. Louis, Missouri, area. Mr. Zoeller says his firm “provides comprehensive advice and counsel to individuals, families, and business owners.”

Mr. Zoeller says most of his retirement clients have three primary goals: 1. Properly funding their retirement plan. 2. Planning for their children’s education. 3. Ensuring long-term financial security for their family.

While Mr. Zoeller handles the core financial planning for each client, he says his broker-dealer, Cetera Advisors LLC, provides back-office support and sophisticated planning capabilities that represent “invaluable resources for our clients.”

Cetera’s Advanced Planning Group, composed of highly credentialed legal and financial professionals, offers guidance in the following areas:

  • Retirement distribution planning.
  • Wealth-transfer planning.
  • Business and succession planning.
  • Tax and stock option strategies.
  • Life insurance and annuity planning.
  • Educational funding strategies.