In 1998, Elisabeth Dawson found herself at a crossroads. She had spent the previous decade as a manager and buyer for Nordstrom. However, after having a second child, Dawson decided she needed a career change. Dawson returned to school and, in 1999, started her new career in the financial sector.
Since then, Dawson has worked her way up in the financial services industry, and just after the millennium, she opened the doors of Copia Wealth Management and Insurance Services. Through her San Diego, California-based company, Dawson has helped thousands of Americans plan for their future. Dawson uses her knowledge and expertise to guide clients through the choppy waves of financial planning.
Firstly Elisabeth, can you tell us about Copia Wealth Management and Insurance Services, and its approach to working with clients?
The majority of our clients come to us through referrals from our clients who are happy with our Platinum Customer Service,which we strive to achieve each and every day. The client comes first. No matter how delicate the situation, we always dedicate our approach to taking care of what the client is in need of.
When speaking of one’s finances, it can become a very uncomfortable and vulnerable topic for them. My goal is to help people feel as welcome and at home as possible. It is a privilege and honor to discuss what an individual, a couple, a family or a business owner has worked so hardover their lives to accomplish. This includes their fears, anxieties about money, and what their true goals, dreams and desires are for their future. We want to help people realize everything that they want has a possibility of occurring. With a little bit of hard work and discipline on both of our efforts, they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.
As the founder of the company, how did you get your start in wealth management, and what led to the formation of Copia?
I started in the industry in 1999, at the peak of the dot com bubble. I truly did not know what I didn’t know. However, what I did know was that I had to create success in this industry due to the fact that I had just changed career paths. I had been in retail with Nordstrom for 10 years prior as a manager and a buyer, and was very successful, but needed a career change for my family. I had just had my second child and he had some special needs. I went back to school in 1998 to get my education, andbecame licensed in September of 1999. It was a long road, but I was committed to make this transition a success.
My business started in the life insurance industry, annuity design and selling mutual funds. I was being mentored by various different advisors in the industry and I quickly learned different aspects of the business. I was introduced to LEAP Systems in 2001. LEAP stands for Lifetime Economic Acceleration Process. It is an economics based systems process focused on educating the client on all aspects of every financial decision that a person makes in their life. It was a game changer and became the missing link for me in the comprehensive financial and education planning I would begin to do with my clients. This education is still part of my practice today. It allows me to take very comprehensive information and make it simple for a client to understand how it relates to their personal world.
Dawson believes Copia is far more than a typical wealth management company. By going in-depth into the lives and finances of her clients, Dawson and her staff are able to create the best retirement plans for them.
Elisabeth, can you explain the services you provide customers and why should they choose your company to manage their finances?
We are so much more than just a traditional financial planning firm. We have a specific conversation with each client when they come in to speak with us and it goes something like this: we all have a core belief of how we should do things regarding financial matters. We have had these beliefs passed down from many generations. We all believe them to be true, but if something we are doing that everyone else is doing turned out not to be true – wouldn’t you want to know about it sooner or later? I believe sooner. So, with all these core beliefs that we have, we do business with financial institutions, banks and the government. These entities know that you have these core beliefs as well. Throughout your day, as you go do business with these financial institutions, banks and the government, do you think they are using these core beliefs to your benefit, or for their advantage? Every person that I ask this question to answers the question the same way, “to their advantage”. So I ask, “wouldn’t you rather know how to play the game with these financial institutions, banks and government better? If that is something my clients want to know more about, then that is a reason to work with me. I will show them where all their financial money leaks are and where their assets have holes in them. You can try to make all the money in the world out there but, if there are money leaks within the systems and procedures of what you are doing,your results will always fall short. Wealthy people continue to make money because they invest and make smart decisions to avoidthe leaks; that is how they continue to make more money. They invest in themselves and their families, generation after generation. The average American continues to do their best, whilefinancial institutions, banks and the government continue to take advantage of their situation, year after year. We never want that to happen to our clientele.
In terms of clients, what is the background of the customers who work with Copia?
The demographic of the client that we enjoy working with and are often able to help the most is a couple that have worked hard to build their vision of wealth together. They may have a couple of children, a home, a second home, multiple pieces of real estate, investable assets of $1 million or more, be business owners or high wage W-2 earners looking to mitigate taxes the best way they can. Retirement is often on the horizon, perhaps within five to seven years, and they would like to leave a legacy to their children or may be charitably inclined. Many of our clients have an overall net worth of $3 million to $25 million. A prospective client who we could absolutely help may have about $15 million of net worth, and growing, who has been too busy to plan.With their retirement approaching, they now need to get their life in order for the doubling, if not quadrupling of their estate over the longevity of their life expectancy.
The average American doesn’t save money for retirement until it is too late. According to studies, the majority of Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. In addition, more than half of all Americans have no money whatsoever put aside for retirement. Dawson wants to change this alarming report, and hopes her clients can tighten their belts to see that the trend reverses.
In your opinion, what is the best time to begin saving for retirement, and how much money should people be putting aside each year?
I believe people should start saving for retirement from the very first job they ever get. Without a doubt, the earlier the better. The rule of thumb used to be that you should save 10% of your gross salary. Today, depending on where you live, economists are saying that just to keep yourself at eye level you are going to have to save more. I have heard in the past 15% and now I hear double that at 30%. This sounds so daunting to the average American, especially since they are barely saving 2% (the national average), and I know we can help people do better. So, how can someone get ahead? If you start early and get used to it, you won’t miss it. However, if you start later, it’s all about finding the money to be able to do it. That is where we have a special talent. We help people find the money lost to financial institutions, banks and the government, which they are freelygiving up. We give away so much money, it’s time to take it back and create more money and wealth with what’s being lost.
What is the most often made mistake individuals make before retirement?
Underestimating the market and believing that it will never drop again before they retire. If the market makes a correction the year before you retire, do you think that will have an effect on your retirement income distributions for the rest of your life? Do you have time to make that loss up? It’s all about balance and making sure you protect what you need to have in guaranteed income for your retirement.Then you can play with the rest.
Another issue is making the incorrect pension distribution choices. Don’t wait until the last minute to go to your retirement meeting. You should have gone to those meetings years ago with your advisor to receive all the facts. Find out if your pension is, in fact, in crisis mode. Will it be at risk of falling apart? Will it be able to pay you for the rest of your life? Does it have an underfunded liability? People are living far longer today than they ever have; can that stress on the pension keep up with the demand? You need to ask these questions and not assume anything.
What is the biggest challenge to individuals when it comes to saving money currently?
People want their money now. They want immediate gratification today. They are not thinking they will have a 30 to 40 year retirement. It used to be that you worked for the same company for 40 years and the majority of your income in retirement was funded by a pension, Social Security and some savings. Today, for most people, pensions don’t really exist anymore. As a result, statistics say that over 29.6% of retirees still have to have a job in retirement to make ends meet, because they simply do not have enough money to make it. Many people don’t realize that the sacrifice of longevity will come in retirement. Social Security reform will come and Medicare reform will come and the co-dependency on pensions and the government will be less and less. The American population will be expected to truly provide every dollar to be able to retire, if future generations areeven able to truly retire. This is why we need to get much more serious about this today, as a culture, and not continue to be so entitled.
Copia and Dawson don’t just help clients save money, but they give back to those who need it, too. Every year, Dawson leads by example and donates large sums to a variety of charities. Her employees also join in the cause and discover new groups and foundations to support.
On your website there is a section called ‘giving back’. Can you please tell me about the three foundations and charities your company supports? Why is it an important part of Copia?
I love to give back. I set a goal to give back 10% of my compensation each year. I give as much as I can to my church, which gave to the hurricane victims in Texas and Florida in 2017, feeding the homeless, single and pregnant mothers to be, school supplies to local schools and so much more. I also support the Lyon family, through the Lyonhearted Foundation, which is in dedication to their son who lost his fight to a very rare childhood brain cancer called DIPG. Proceeds go to research and development for this 100% fatality rate cancer, as well as other families who are going through this with their children. There are also many other charities that we find throughout the year. I have my team come to me with ideas and we contribute as a whole on projects as well. We want to give back to the community and share what we have been blessed with.
Part of Dawson’s role in counseling and educating people is gaining the trust of her clients. Due to some high-profile financial institutions taking advantage of their customers, the American public has a much less favorable opinion on companies like Copia. However, Dawson makes it one of her first tasks to gain that trust and ease her client’s fears.
As the founder and CEO of Copia, what has been the biggest challenge you have faced since opening the company’s doors?
Often, one of the more difficult parts of my job is working past people’s preconceived notions regarding financial planning. This can have a lot to do with the limited information available to the general public as well as the eroded sense of trust within the industry, which is a result of recent years. That, and procrastination! So many people put off getting help with their financial life, because it seems too daunting of a task.
In addition, the financial services industry is male dominated. I have had to learn how to be tough and also very humble in this environment. I have never let this stand in my way, it has actually motivated me to be the very best at what I do and to make sure that I am laser focused. I have also been welcomed in an environment that once would never have accepted me. I have been fortunate to have wonderful male counterpart mentors and friends throughout the industry, and I am grateful for our comradery and the respect that we all share.
Elisabeth, is there one piece of advice you can give to a potential client that will allow them to live comfortably during their later years?
It is so important for you to have a true vision for what you want your retirement life to look like. This next chapter in your life is by your design and no one else. It is about your “wish list”, your goals, dreams and desires. I have a conversation with my clients about, “What does retirement look like to you? What are the ways you want to love your retirement?” The life you want to design and visualize is all in your control; I’m just here to help be that special advocate to make it happen. Your best years are to come, and I’m here to help give you the peace of mind to get you all the way through.
Dawson’s desire to help individuals plan for their future has been at the heart of Copia Wealth Management and Insurance Services. Through her hard work and success, she has built her company into one of the top financial management institutions in Southern California. Now with nearly 19 years of experience in financial services, Dawson continues to help create a better future for those seeking peace of mind.
For more information about Copia Wealth Management and Insurance Services, please visit www.copiawm.com.
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