Episode 14 - David Altschuler
Life Lessons from a Financial Therapist
4 Key Learnings – David Altschuler
About this Episode
David Altschuler is a financial advisor, Max’s father, and all around self made man. From his first job pulling weeds, to the time he turned down a $100K career at the age of 27 (which was a lot in the 1970s), David’s mantra has always been “if it can be done, I can do it.” He’s built an incredible life for himself, his family, and those around him, and considers himself a financial therapist of sorts. This episode is filled with advice and life lessons that you won’t want to miss.
“I look at the stock market just like I look at the weather. I can look out this window sometimes and I can see black storm clouds coming. Pretty soon, it's going to rain, and lighting, and thunder. But then I know tomorrow the sun's going to shine again.”
More on – David
A truly self-made man, David has spent a lifetime helping others achieve their goals. He views himself as a “financial therapist” of sorts, and thrives in helping others put their dreams down on paper, and then chasing those dreams until they become a reality.
- The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino
Welcome to the Career Hacking Podcast. I’m your host, Max Altschuler. We have a very special episode for you today. That’s right, my dad, David Altschuler, is joining us. Stay tuned.
This episode is brought to you by SUTRA Superfoods. SUTRA is a healthy and beautiful superfoods latte, an alternative to coffee. Gives you balanced and natural energy without any caffeine or stimulants. I love SUTRA Gold, with turmeric, and ginger, and maca root in the mornings. Tastes like a spicy chai. I drink the SUTRA Black in the afternoons with activated charcoal and raw cacao, and it tastes like a healthy hot cocoa. Beautiful, too. It’s great for travel because it comes in stick packs. I can have it easily on planes, trains, and hotels. It can be made hot, iced, or even into a smoothie. It’s definitely my new favorite drink. Check it out at SipSUTRA.com.
If you haven’t already, check out my book, “Career Hacking for Millennials”.
Today’s guest is David Altschuler, my father. This is a very special guest for me. Me and my dad are very close. He’s obviously my role model, mentor, best friend, rock, therapist, you name it. My dad is somebody who made it to all of my hockey games while I was growing up. Was always there for me. Would pick me up from school, sometimes in the middle of the day, and take me to the Iceworks facility to go watch the local ice hockey team, the New York Islanders, practice, which was in our hometown.
I never yearned for anything. I’d say we were middle to upper middle class most of my life, and my dad did that all himself. He’s completely self made. His father was blue collar, was in and out of business. I look up to my dad for so many things. So excited to be able to get on here today and share his story.
Again, he’s a financial advisor, so he works with a lot of people who are in their 20s and 30s to really figure out what their goals should be. How to get them to where they need to go so that their lives are set and they can have the things that they want, like a family, and a house, and education for their kids, and to be able to pay for any medical bills that pop up. He’s going to get pretty deep into a lot of the things that he learned becoming a self-made man himself. Then, also, some best practices from a financial advisor.
Really excited for this episode. Thanks for coming on the show, Dad. We’ll get right into it. Tell us what you do right now
What I do right now … That’s an interesting question. Sometimes I wonder. I’m a certified financial planner and an investment advisor. My job is to help people figure out what their goals are. Once they understand what they want to achieve, I help to quantify those goals by setting timeframes and dollar amounts on them. Then I analyze what they’ve already done, and what their experience has been, and I recommend plans and programs to help them achieve their goals.
Yeah. I think my audience, highly technical, younger, they look at programs like E-Trade and Charles Schwab, or whatever the things are that they can sign up for, Robin Hood, and it’ll put them into stocks that are outperforming or are trending in certain ways that data is supposed to tell them. But I don’t think there’s a piece of technology that can help them plan goals and do the things that you can do. Maybe it’s a little old school, but I think the younger people that are just starting to make money need someone like that. Need someone to be able to say, “Here’s how you should be thinking about your life.”
Take us through, a little bit, about what you do with someone who comes to you for the first time. What does that goal planning look like?
Okay. The first meeting is what we call a fact finding. In the fact finding, I want to review everything that they’ve already done. I want to look at their investment accounts, their retirement plans, their insurances, their wills and trusts, anything that has to do with their financial wellbeing. From that information, I can then come up with a profile of who this person is and what they’re trying to achieve. I think the thing that is missing in all of those newfangled data-based analysis that help people do investing is the human touch.
There’s really no substitute for experience, and when you’re dealing with someone like me, I have 38 years of doing this professionally. In 38 years, I’m able to understand what somebody’s really trying to say, and what they really want, and how to move them in that direction. I really have to motivate them to see what their goals are more realistically, and to quantify them. You really can’t do that by talking to a computer.
Yeah. I’ve watched friends of mine who’ve come and talked to you and try and figure out their lives, and you’re almost like a therapist, in some ways. Financial therapist.
Where it’s like…
I’ll tell you something. When I first started my company in 1983, I was called Long Island Financial and Estate Planning. On my way to the print shop, I realized that this wasn’t Long Island Financial and Estate Planning, LIFE, it was Life Planning. I was helping people find ways to achieve their life goals, not just their financial goals.
You can’t do one without the other, generally. We always have the time but not the money, or the money but not the time. I help people to try to create a balance between all of the different things that they want to achieve in life. That’s so important. Like I said, you can’t do that on the computer.
Yeah. That makes sense. We talked about how you set people up on their goals. Let’s talk about what your goals were when you were younger. Take us through your story. How the hell did you get to become a financial planner? When you’re a kid, nobody’s like, “I want to be a financial planner when I grow up.” Are they? I think you reading this stuff when you were 13, right?
Yeah. When I was 13, I knocked on my father’s bedroom door one night, and I said, “I want to buy a stock.” He says, “You’re a punk kid. What do you know about buying stock?” I said, “Every night when we sit down to dinner, I see on the TV the top ten most active stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. Every night, Fairchild Camera is on the list. It looks like it’s got momentum. It seems like it’s going to keep going in that direction, so I want to buy some stock. It’s my money, from my bar mitzvah. If I lose money, I’ll learn from it. If I make money, I’ll learn from it.”
He said, “Okay. You can buy one share of one company. Call Murray, the broker, tomorrow, and he’ll do it for you.” I bought one share of Fairchild Camera at $61, and I sold it three weeks later at $81. 30% profit in three weeks. Not bad. My father said, “You’re a genius. Do whatever you want to do.”
That started me on being aware of what investing was all about. Then, every Sunday, we’d get the New York Times, and I would go to the business section and I would cut out all the coupons for free information, and I would send them in, probably five or six a week. I’d get phone calls every night of the week from these stockbrokers thinking that I was somebody who had some money. I expressed interest in getting the literature, so I must be somebody who has the resources to make some investments.
I would have these guys on the phone for two or three hours every night, picking their brains. Learning the language. Finding out how different things interacted with other things, and getting an understanding of how the investment world worked. It became my preoccupation, basically. When I got into college, my favorite subject was economics. I just really got excited by the way the economic system was set up, and how different aspects of it interacted with one another. I became a student of it, basically.
That’s basically how it started, was that first share of stock. I didn’t really pursue this as a career until I was in my late 20s. I had been selling real estate in Jamaica Estates, Queens, and in the late ’70s when interest rates started going up, the housing market basically died. In those days, people were comfortable with an 8.5% interest rate on their mortgage. But when it started going to 9, and 9.5, and 10, and it went up as high as 17, at that time, nobody was buying a house.
I was sitting in the office with nothing to do, and I got this brochure in the mail from Adelphi University offering a program called Certified Financial Planner. It was only four courses. It seemed second nature to me, because I had already been aware of a lot of the things they were teaching in the course. I said, “This is what I’m looking for, a career where I could make good money, I could do good things for people, I’ll never run out of customers, and I’ll never run out of products.”
That seemed to be the magic formula for me, because in real estate, you either had a lot of inventory of houses to sell but no customers, or a lot of customers and no houses. That’s pretty much the way it is right now, which is no houses, and a lot of who want to buy one, and interest rate’s low enough to give them the incentive to do it.
Anyway, I switched from real estate, took the CFP Program, and then I started my own financial planning practice. That’s history from here, basically
What about recessions? You say you have unlimited inventory, but recessions didn’t scare you at that time?
The ups and downs of the market are what I find somewhat exciting. I’m standing at my office window right now. It takes up the whole wall, and I’ll looking out from the fourth floor to the sky behind me. I look at the stock market just like I look at the weather. I can look out this window sometimes and I can see black storm clouds coming. Pretty soon, it’s going to rain, and lighting, and thunder. But then I know tomorrow the sun’s going to shine again.
That’s basically the way the stock market is, as well. You’re going to have a couple of bad days, and then the sun’s going to shine again, you’re going to have some good days. You just need to know what your goals are, and to stay focused on your goals. You have to decide whether you’re a speculator who gets in and out, or an investor, who holds things for long-term benefit. Most of my clients, and in my own management of my own portfolio, are really long-term in nature. We look for things of good quality, and we hold them for, usually, three to five years if not more.
That’s the excitement of it. You have a recession. That recession creates other opportunities, basically. You ride it out.
Yeah. People make money in recessions. It happens. Just because the overall market’s not doing well-
Yes. Even in a bad market, there’s going to be some companies that are doing well. That’s what you have to find.
Exactly. You talked about when you decided to become a financial planner, and you said this is right for you. You talked a little bit about what was important to you. How do you think you developed over your childhood and in your teenage years, and in early 20s. What was important to you? Do you think it was things that came from interactions with your family, or social networks, or … What were the deciding factors? Why was it important for you to make money, and be able to own your own business, or whatever else?
That’s an interesting question. I think every boy has a relationship with his father where he looks up to him. He’s a role model. In my case, my role model was my father, who owned a company that recapped tires. In the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, instead of buying a new tire, you’d buy a recap, which was a tire that was all worn out that they would wrap another layer of rubber around the outside of it, put it in this high-temperature mold, and melt the rubber onto what they called the casing of the old tire.
My grandfather started United Economy Tires in Corona, I think in the ’30s. My father had dropped out of high school at 16 years old to drive around New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and Long Island to open up accounts at gas stations to sell these recap tires. Until he built the business up to the point where he could go back to high school and finish high school.
His father started the business and was a salesman. My father had to be a salesman to run the business. I became a salesman, and you, essentially, became a salesman. You’re fourth-generation sales.
Part of what I thought, growing up, was, “This is the way Dad would do it,” or, “Dad would be proud of me for this.” That was a large part of my motivation, was try to fill the shoes that my father had. Interestingly enough, when you walk in somebody else’s footsteps, you oftentimes wind up where they wanted to go. But, at some point, you have to analyze whether or not that path is still the one that’s right for you.
I realized over time that we’re all human. My father, as much as a role model as he might’ve been, had his faults, too. There were certain things that I didn’t want to become. Over time, you learn by doing, and you learn by watching, and you learn by talking to people, and you figure out who it is you want to be, and how you want to be it.
One of the things that I pride myself on is basically being a very moral person. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” My philosophy is that the more successful I help other people become, the more successful I become. That philosophy has served me really, really well. I’ve helped a lot of people become very, very successful, and as a consequence, I’ve become very successful.
Those types of ideas that you don’t normally get exposed to growing up in a middle-class neighborhood, you have to spread your wings a little bit, and then push the envelope a little bit here and there to expose yourself to ideas like that. You have to decide that this is really what you want for yourself. It’s not just, “Okay, I’ll grow up and I’ll get a job driving a UPS truck, and that’ll be okay. I’ll get a pension, and I’ll retire. I’ll have 1.2 cars and 2.2 kids, and I’ll just be Mr. Average American.” No, that’s a choice you make. Everything is a choice you make, and you have to decide what choices are right for you. Sometimes passing opportunities that sound good in the moment because you have bigger or different long-term goals.
I’ll give you an example of that. I was about three years into my career, and there was a guy who had a company that charged consulting fees to pension and profit-sharing plans, which were all the rage in those days, the early ’80s. He was impressed with me, and he said to me, “David, I’m in my late 60s. One day, I’m going to want to retire. I need somebody who can run this business that I can bring in now and work the next two years with or so, teach them how it’s all done, and make sure that, when I retire, that my customers’ll be well served, and that I’ll continue to get income for it,” and all that kind of stuff.
He said, “I think you might be the guy. Would you be interested?” I said to him, “How much are you talking about, in terms of compensation?” He said, “With salary, and bonuses, and benefits, and all that, you’re probably looking at 100 grand a year.” I was 27 years old. This was the early ’80s. I looked him in the eyes and I said, “Thank you, but what do I need you for?” He was a bit taken back. He wasn’t expecting that kind of response. Here he was, offering what seemed like a very generous compensation package and a great opportunity, and I was like, “Nah.”
I left his office, we shook hands, and I got out to the elevator, and I said to myself, “Schmuck, you just turned down $100,000 a year.” But I lived to tell the story, now, because I realized over the years that there are a lot of really smart people in the world, and a lot of them have become very, very successful. When you go down to the common denominator of who we are and what we are, I am the same flesh, and blood, and bones as he is. I might be a little smarter. He might be a little more expert in his field, but I can learn that. If he could learn it, I can learn that. If anybody can do something, I could probably do it too if I have the desire, and if I’m motivated to do it.
That’s my attitude, is that if it’s doable, I can do it. I don’t need to work for somebody else to let them get rich. I could do it myself.
Do you think that’s something that was passed down, because we’re tenacious, determined generations of salespeople? Do you think that is Gypsy blood from, what? In Lithuania in us?
Exactly. What do you think that’s from?
No, I’ll tell you what it’s attributable to. I was always very inspired by some of these motivational speakers, and stuff. In college … I went to Quinnipiac University, as you know. In those days, it was Quinnipiac College. It was 2200 kids. The atmosphere was very progressive, I’ll say. We had a course in interpersonal communication. My degree is in Organizational Behavior, which is like management psychology. A lot of what we learned there was about setting goals for yourself, monitoring your progress toward the goals, communicating what you’re trying to achieve so the other people around you understand what you’re trying to do and can help you in it, and then analyzing your progress towards those goals so you can modify your plans accordingly.
The point is that, in the classes for Interpersonal Communications, I learned so much about, not just sales, but it’s all about people, basically. It’s all about relationships. It’s all about knowing who to trust, and how to build that trust. If you can do that, you’ll be successful at just about anything. Almost every occupation, in a way, is sales, is service. It’s some way of making a relationship with people. That’s what you have to be good at.
I learned from that Interpersonal Communications class that this is the nucleus of everything you do in life, going forward. It was an interesting class, because he actually would take tape recorders and record our conversation. Then we’d go back and analyze the conversations to not just see what the words were, but what the emotions were. What was the connection that was being made in those conversations?
It was really interesting, because we had this one professor who lived near campus, and he invited all the kids in the class over to his house. Over a couple of cases of beer, we sat in the basement, recorded our conversations. As we got a little more of a buzz, the conversations changed. It was a great bonding experience between all of us. I was in an environment where we could do things like that, and be creative. That really helped a lot.