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May 2010
Above & Beyond
By Heather Head

     Five years ago, Tim Flanagan, general agent of Hinrichs Flanagan Financial, was riding high on the wave of Charlotte’s economic boom. “Everyone wanted to talk about what they were doing in the stock market and how much money they were making,” he smiles.

     Today, his newly re-named company HF Financial, still a general agency of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, is on what he terms the more “staid” side of business, the side where all you have to talk about is spending less than you make, reducing debt, and dealing with investment volatility.

     But a look into what HF Financial has contributed to the community for the past 75 years is far from boring.  It’s a story of success not only of the company, but also of the individuals who have grown with the company and the clients whose personal and business lives have been enriched by their work.

     It’s also the story of Charlotte, and of all the individuals and businesses that make up this community that HF Financial helps to find sustainable opportunities for growth.

     “What we do is back in vogue now,” Flanagan adds. “In an economy like this, people have a true appreciation of the conservative advice we give them.”


Beyond Charity

     The most obvious manifestation of HF Financial’s contribution to the community is also their least advertised. Whether it’s building yet another Habitat for Humanity house (they’ve built one each year for 11 years now), sponsoring a Disability Awareness night, or purchasing bicycles for needy children, HF Financial, as an organization and through its employees, quietly makes substantial contributions to our community.

     But their commitment runs deeper than charitable giving and volunteering. Their very business model is based on a sense of community. It all starts with hiring and training individuals to become entrepreneurs with a sustainable approach to balancing work, personal, and spiritual lives.

     “It’s not about making a lot of money,” says Flanagan. “It’s about being as well rounded as you can be: family, faith, financial life, community, work, physical health.”

     When HF Financial hires an individual, they look for specific attributes that indicate the person will make a successful entrepreneur: Dogged determination in the face of adversity, the ability to formulate a vision of success, dedication to that vision, commitment to doing the right thing, and a strong work ethic. Even so, Flanagan says, “Until the work starts, you really don’t know whether someone will succeed.”

     But for those who do, HF Financial provides a level of training and support that is unique in the industry.  “Individuals who succeed in this business are thirsty for knowledge,” says Flanagan, “and that’s key—even for advisors who have been in the job for a long time. Without it, you lose your edge.” The company makes it easy for individuals to quench that thirst by providing training, mentoring programs, and support for all the stages of an advisor’s career.

     As an advisor gains experience and builds a client base, HF Financial encourages each to find a niche and supports them as they grow into it. Often, those advisors form their own divisions and even their own companies either within HF Financial or independently.

     As a result, HF Financial boasts true expertise in wealth management, retirement planning, and corporate benefits, as well as some unique specialties such as financial planning for physicians (SpaughDameronTenny; and also for families with special needs dependents ( These fully formed divisions have their own teams and their own Web sites, but operate under the umbrella of  HF Financial and MassMutual.


Beyond Profits

     A Special Needs Plan highlights another unique aspect of HF Financial’s community commitment. In its infancy five years ago, no one was certain whether the special needs market could be profitable. But Ryan Platt dreamed of helping families with special needs children, and HF Financial stood behind his dream, because they believe that if you do the right thing, it comes back to you in the long run.

     In the five years since then, Platt has become one of the only special needs planning experts in the nation. And yes, it has proven profitable—for the company, for Platt himself and, especially, for the families he helps.

     For families of children (or other dependents) with special needs, financial planning is both more important and much more daunting than for most families. Faced with the reality of a child who may need care well beyond the parent’s ability to provide it, as well as the costs associated with providing for a special needs child, these families can’t afford not to plan. But for the same reasons, they also often can’t afford professional help with their planning.

     The families must learn to access community, state, and national resources that are complex in their requirements and often in conflict with other aspects of financial planning. They must simultaneously stretch already-thin dollars to cover medical, educational, and therapeutic care now and also in the future. Because resources are often thin in this market, few financial services experts have bothered to try to tap it.

     Platt is the exception. Today, A Special Needs Plan serves families of all economic levels through a Web site and educational materials that walk families through the complexities step by step, giving them the resources they need to make the plans that will sustain their family. For a fee, they can hire Platt for personalized, expert assistance.

     Flanagan says the biggest challenge for A Special Needs Plan right now is that the demand for its services outstrips Platt’s ability to meet it. Flanagan himself has begun the training to become certified in the specialty in order to better help Platt identify and recruit new candidates to better serve the market.


Beyond Economic Stimulus

     While serving families and small to medium-sized businesses is core to HF Financial’s mission, providing jobs and economic stability is important too. Flanagan says he’s never received nor even applied for economic stimulus package money. But he had to laugh when his college-aged son recently asked him what he would do if he received the $40 million recently awarded a larger company for the purpose of creating 300 jobs:  “Probably create a lot more jobs than that!”

     But he knows he doesn’t need government money in order to create jobs, because his associates, with the company’s support and resources, create their own revenue and their own their jobs in a way that is unique in the industry.

     So it was only a small stretch to realize that the same spirit of entrepreneurship that drives successful HF Financial advisors also uniquely qualifies them to counsel small business owners in their financial planning.  Although the group isn’t formalized yet in the way that SpaughDameronTenny and A Special Needs Plan are,  HF Financial currently supports a small group of dedicated professionals who are focusing their efforts on addressing that market.

     “I had an a-ha moment,” explains Flanagan, “when one of my advisors asked me to sit down with him in a meeting with another business owner. As talented as the advisor was, he was relatively inexperienced in our business and he couldn’t connect with the client because he’d never had employees, never had to make those kinds of decisions. So I started having that conversation with the business owner about the highs and lows and made some comments that he connected with, and he’s now a client of ours. And I realized I could teach my people how to have that same conversation. We already teach them to be really good business owners, and now they can take that knowledge and bring it to the table with other business owners.”

     Hopefully, Flanagan adds, the work HF Financial is doing with small businesses will mean that more of those companies will be around 25 years from now, which means more jobs and more stability for the community as a whole.


Principles and Values

     Being around for the next 25—or more—years is a matter of interest for HF Financial, because they have every intention of doing it themselves, and they have a 75-year history to prove they have what it takes. During those 75 years, the firm has continuously maintained many of the same values and practices they employ today.  They are the same values and practices they advocate to their customers, whether individuals or businesses, in order to help them remain sustainable too.

     “The financial formula is pretty simple actually, and nothing at all new. In fact, it’s a tradition as old as the Bible, and it consists of five simple principles: Spend less than you earn, minimize debt, save 10 to 20 percent of your income, think and act long-term, and give 10 to 20 percent back,” says Flanagan.

     He shrugs slightly when he talks about small businesses following these same principles, because he says giving is such a personal decision. “There are successful companies who give nothing back, and successful companies who give a great deal. Interestingly, it’s those that do give that are usually most successful in the long-term,” he comments.

     In addition to the strict financial strategy, HF Financial adheres to five core values that also have not changed in 75 years: integrity, accountability, service, professionalism, and conviction.

     Although the fundamentals remain the same, no company can survive long without learning to change and adapt to circumstances. In recognition of that fact, Flanagan recently added a new value to the company’s mantra: Growth. “Because,” he explains, “if you’re not growing, then you’re not going to survive.”

     To Flanagan, the term growth means much more than revenue, profit, or number of clients. It also means personal and expertise growth among HF Financial advisors, and it especially means growth within the company to meet new realities and new challenges.

     One relatively new initiative is HF Financial’s efforts to recruit and train female advisors. The industry is traditionally heavily occupied by white males, even though in the U.S. women make about 80 percent of the financial decisions for families. It just made sense to Flanagan to address the disparity.

     First he formed an advisory panel of female financial professionals to help him gain some insight into the issue. When he began hiring new women advisors, he quickly realized that they did not have a role model within the company to look up to, so he brought on Ellen Linares, a woman with 12 years in the industry and several years of experience before that in the banking industry, who could serve as a role model for female recruits.

     Despite his self-deprecating comment about the current economy representing the “staid” side of the business, talking to Flanagan is anything but. His passion for Charlotte, his commitment to growth, and his excitement about the power of entrepreneurship are inspiring.

     “There’s something about going back to timeless principles,” he concludes. “It’s fun. It’s hard work. It’s rewarding. And it’s not just a business—it’s a mission.”

     The economy may not be providing a lot of opportunities for celebration, but 75 years of giving back to the community certainly does, and Flanagan intends to do his part in ensuring that his company will be celebrating again in another 75 years—and beyond.

Heather Head is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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