Christy Aleckson discovered the hard knocks of the entrepreneurial life at an early age, by selling lemonade — in Alaska.
“It was a challenge to get the only three families who lived on my street to buy from me,” she said of her hometown, Soldotna. “After that experience, I started baking cookies and selling them in my mom’s office, and I was a lot more successful with that.”
Her interest in business was equaled only by her love for teaching. She originally planned to become a teacher after graduating from college. But that plan was extinguished by the teacher she knew best — her father.
Aleckson didn’t spend her career standing in front of a blackboard. But she serves as a teacher every day to her clients. Aleckson, 43, is CEO of Single Point Financial Advisors in Beaverton, Ore., in the technology hub nicknamed the “Silicon Forest.”
She was named 2018 Woman of the Year by Women in Insurance and Financial Services in recognition of her work on behalf of her profession and her association. The award is given to a WIFS member based on her organizational activities, which include mentorship, participation in webinars, focus groups and study groups, and leadership roles on the local and national levels.
Many financial advisors started out in professions such as teaching before making a career switch. When Aleckson was in high school, she planned to take an opposite route.
“I come from a family of teachers,” she said. “My Dad was a teacher and so was his mother — that whole side of the family tended to be in the teaching profession. My plan was to go off and make a ton of money from some fabulous business and, then when I was 35 and rich and famous, I would go back to school and become a teacher. That was my vision.”
Aleckson’s father taught U.S. history at the high school she attended. She said she was walking in the hall on her way to class one day when her father put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Don’t do it, kid.”
“I said, ‘Don’t do what?’ He said, ‘Don’t become a teacher.’”
Aleckson said she heard a similar discouraging remark from her art teacher. “I thought, ‘What the heck? Why is everyone being so negative about this?’ Looking back, they were going through a bad contract negotiation or something and everyone was regretting being a teacher that week.”
Aleckson graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., where she earned degrees in business administration and political science. Her first post-college job put her back in the world of teachers. She took a marketing job with a small investment firm that enrolled public school employees in 403(b) plans.
“I ended up learning a lot from helping the other agents with their licensing, continuing education, other things they were working on,” she said. “The money wasn’t what I was focused on. It was the aspect of sitting down and teaching someone about money and planning that really appealed to me.”
Eventually, Aleckson convinced the firm’s owners to pay to get her licensed. She started out working with some existing clients until she became comfortable enough in the business to begin acquiring clients of her own.
Aleckson found that her family’s background in education served her well as she started out helping teachers enroll in 403(b)s.
“My dad’s mother — my grandmother — is 100 and she still gets a $96 monthly annuity payment from her 403(b),” Aleckson said. “Her colleagues all had these plans, too. It was very much a thing that I was aware of when it came to retirement planning and knowing what that demographic needed because I know how much they make.”
Out On Her Own
After 11 years, Aleckson established her own practice. She formed Single Point Financial Advisors in 2007, with a focus on serving public school employees as well as women business owners. She has another advisor and an assistant working with her.
Her affinity for the public education sector worked well for her as she continued serving that group’s retirement saving needs. But trying to provide advice for business owners while the Great Recession threw the economy into turmoil was a challenge, Aleckson recalled.
“It was a challenge getting people to schedule an appointment with me because everyone was working all hours trying to keep their own business going,” she said. “Plus, because we were in a recession, people didn’t have flexible income to spend on certain things. So while you could get a rollover or a transfer for financial planning, it was hard to get true planning done. No one’s paying for disability insurance because they’re trying to pay their lease or their mortgage.”
Aleckson said she worked on relationship-building, attending business networking events and “not trying to market, but trying to be a resource to people.”
After two or three years of struggling to reach business owners who were having their own struggles, Aleckson went back to her 403(b) clients. “I worked on getting referrals from those existing clients and continued to grow that way. This shifted my focus at that point to something that was a little bit different and things started to grow from there.”
Happiness Is At The Core
Many advisors start out serving anyone who is willing to do business with them and then they eventually develop a niche market. Aleckson said she did the opposite.
“I started out in a niche and now I work with people I like,” she said. “I don’t require a minimum level of assets to work with me. My judgment call is if what you need is what I do, then we go to Step 2. If I think of you calling and I roll my eyes knowing you’re on the other end of the phone, you’re not my client. And vice versa, if you’re irritated that I’m calling you, it’s not a good match. And when that does happen, I try to match them with someone who is a good fit.”
She continues to work with public school employees and has branched out to serve single women, whether they are divorced, widowed or never-married. “I work with women in all age ranges,” she said. “We talk about more than just their money, so it seems to be a good fit.”
Aleckson also works with couples who are business owners. Nike and Intel have their headquarters in Beaverton, and Aleckson’s firm works with some of their employees.
In addition, she works with a number of millennial clients. “They are my favorite because they want to know and understand everything,” she said. “They don’t want the biggest, brightest, fastest — they want what’s best for them.”
Seeing her millennial clients succeeding and reaching their financial goals is “the kind of stuff that makes you feel you’re really impacting people because you are seeing results.”
Aleckson’s teaching instincts kick in when she works with younger clients, said Emily McDonald, a registered representative in her firm.
“Christy has the heart of a teacher,” McDonald said. “She is interested in learning from people as well as helping them get what they want.”
McDonald recalled one young prospect who called Aleckson after calling at least 10 other firms, seeking advice on his finances.
“He said, ‘I want to learn something,’ and Christy was laser-focused on getting him started on his financial journey. Now he has reached his goals because she sat down and taught him. She believes when she sends this energy out, it elevates everyone — the client, our practice, the entire community.”
The firm’s website lists a number of the company’s core value. Along with items such as education and integrity, happiness is included on that list of values.
“Happiness is at the core of all this,” Aleckson said. “People come into my office and they’re stressed, they don’t know if they’ll be able to retire, and they don’t know what’s going on and everything’s confusing. And when they leave, they’re giving hugs and excited and looking forward to the rest of their day. I think that’s really important.”