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Continued: Going from patients to clients

  • Article by: PATRICK KENNEDY , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 22, 2013 - 9:24 AM

Joel Greenwald is a physician-turned-financial adviser who now helps doctors and dentists with their financial planning.

A native of New York, Greenwald earned his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City before completing his medical training at the University of Minnesota. He then practiced internal medicine in St. Paul for 10 years.

In the late 1990s, he began studying to be a certified financial planner. For two years, he practiced medicine three days a week and practiced financial planning two days a week. In 2000, he made the switch entirely and has seen only clients since.

In August he opened up his own wealth management group, Greenwald Wealth Management. More than half of his clients are physicians, a quarter are dentists and over the past several years, he has taken on only physicians and dentists as new clients.

QWhy did you decide to switch careers?

AAfter practicing for about 10 years, my wife and I realized that having a two-physician household was very difficult. We had three young kids, and you know, with two physician schedules, nobody can be home reliably, long hours, etc.

My lovely wife loved her job, loved being a physician. I would say I liked being a physician, but I was the one who at first considered the idea of switching. So while I was practicing full-time, I started studying to be a certified financial planner. The more I did that, the more I enjoyed it.

We kind of decided that, gee, where the heck is medicine headed? I don't know, but is it a risk to have all of all our income come from a field that looks so uncertain?

QAre there any similarities in being a doctor and being a financial planner?

ASometimes people have trouble appreciating this -- but to be honest -- financial planning and medicine are remarkably similar. When I was a physician, people would come see me in the office, they would have health problems, symptoms or an established diagnosis that was being managed. They would come to me as the expert, and they'd turn to me for assistance.

With financial planning, it's very similar. An individual or a couple come see me, and instead of their health being what they are concerned about, it is their finances.

QWhat did your wife think of your career switch?

AThere was definitely a period of time when my wife said, "What is going on? I married a doctor who had a nice steady income. Is this a horrible mistake?" That luckily hasn't been said in many, many years. She is very happy I've done this, and again, it's afforded us the flexibility to raise three kids.

QDoctors and dentists get a relatively late start on saving for retirement. What challenges does that present?

AThey've been dealing with delayed gratification. If we look at a physician, they graduated from college at 22, they graduated from medical school at 26, then they do residency. They don't start making real money until their early 30s.

All of sudden they go from making $50,000 a year, to making $200, $300, $500, $750 (thousand). The impulse can be very much, "I really deserve this."

People think, "Well, by God, I'm going to go from making $50,000 to $200,000. Of course I'll save money -- how can I not save money?"

The issue is, it's easy not to save money because there is always something fun to spend it on. It's very much teaching them that they can enjoy themselves, but there needs to be limits, they need to pay themselves first, they need to be saving.

QIt's often said that doctors make the worst patients. What kind of clients are they?

AMy good clients are people who are delegators. They figure, "I'm good at medicine; my time is best spent practicing medicine ... I'm going to have this guy, Joel, take care of this financial stuff.''

Physicians are taught to question and not take things at face value. So I often get questions. I never mind explaining to them why I'm recommending what I recommend.

QPeople ask doctors and dentists for free medical advice all the time, and they also get pitched a lot of investment ideas. How much financial and investment discipline do you teach?

AI ask them to really consult me on any financial decision, and certainly getting pitched on investments is definitely one of them. Medical start-ups is one I see a lot, particularly in this town with medical device start-ups.

QIs there anything from your educational and medical training that you can apply to your work as a financial adviser?

AI think a lot of the things that make a good physician are the same that make a good financial adviser: being a good listener, asking good questions, continuing education. As a doctor, you are constantly struggling to keep up with what is going on in your field, and it's very much recertification and lifelong learning. I think it is exactly the same in financial planning.

QWhat can others learn from your career switch?

AMost people would say, "You know, if you go to all the trouble of becoming an M.D., that's what you have to do for the rest of your life."

That is not the case. I think we are living longer, and if you are not completely satisfied in doing what you are doing, then look to do something else.

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926

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