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Meet Our Financial Planners

Greg Ward

CFP®

Location: Charlotte, NC

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 21

Education: B.S. in Statistics, University of California – Davis

My Story: I began my career helping employees sign up for their company’s 401(k) plan. I loved helping people make smart financial decisions, but as a wholesaler I was not working directly with employees, so I jumped ship and became a financial advisor. As an advisor I got to do what I loved to do, which was help people with their finances, but I didn’t want to be limited to just advising around investments. Eventually, as I was looking for something beyond financial advice, I found Financial Finesse, where I get to help people make sound decisions without the sales pressure.

Lives I’ve Changed: I’d like to think that I’ve changed many lives, but the truth is I’ve never changed anyone’s life; I’ve merely revealed their potential to change their own. I truly believe that anyone can improve their financial wellness. Once they take the first step, my responsibility is to equip them. I’ve had the privilege of equipping thousands of people with the knowledge to be better stewards of their financial resources, and as long as I am able I will continue to do so.

Linda Robertson

CFP®, ChFC®, CEBS, MSFS

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 24

Education: Masters in Financial Planning, The American College; B.S. in Finance, West Chester University

My Story: From the start of my career in financial services, I’ve always enjoyed helping people become more empowered with managing their money. I started out in the banking industry, then moved on to managing health insurance and 403(b) plans for local school districts and also branched out to specializing in tax preparation. Upon joining Financial Finesse in 2005, I realized my lifelong goal of combining my financial planning and employee benefits expertise with my passion to inspire each individual to take the steps needed to reach a state of financial well-being, without any hidden agenda or ulterior motive of a sales pitch.

Lives I’ve Changed: I first talked to Gary back in 2008, when he decided to get serious about planning for retirement in his mid-fifties while trying to juggle the cost of college tuition for his daughter. Throughout the years, we worked on his budget so he could pay out of pocket for Shannon to go to school, made sure he took all the federal tax credits he was entitled to, and helped him to save as much as possible for his upcoming retirement. This year, Gary followed his wife Sally into retirement, confident that he was financially prepared, calling one last time to say his goodbye.

Erik Carter

CFP®, JD

Location: San Diego, CA

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 15

Education: J.D., University of San Diego; B.A. in Economics with Honors, NYU

My Story: My interest in personal finance started in the 4th grade when my father gave me the “Dean Witter Guide to Personal Investing.” My experience includes running a small brokerage office, advising members of Congress on Capitol Hill, and working for a major investment company in New York. In each role, I found conflicts of interest and other limitations that made it difficult for me to provide the kind of help I felt people really needed. That led me to accept a full scholarship to law school to study tax and estate planning. I decided that wouldn’t be a fulfilling career either, so I discovered Financial Finesse, where I finally have the opportunity to really help people instead of just trying to sell a product.

Lives I’ve Changed: The one that surprised me the most was a senior executive with an extensive financial background who had actually neglected a lot of his finances and wasn’t sure if he would even be able to retire. In contrast, I worked with another employee who was not as financially sophisticated but by diligently saving money and sticking to the investment plan I helped her put together, was able to retire before the age of 40. This drives home the fact that financial knowledge isn’t enough. Translating that knowledge into the actual behaviors is what’s needed to achieve financial wellness.

Bruce Young

CFP®

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 23

Education: B.S. in Finance, California State University – Hayward

My Story: A long time ago in a land far, far away… Seriously, I have always enjoyed educating people and wanting to provide the tools they need to realize the lifestyle they want. This to me went beyond selling a product or picking the perfect investment. It was about understanding the various stages of life and goals that people have and being able to provide the best guidance to that end.

Lives I’ve Changed: I worked with a retired football player as he and his wife were looking to get a handle on their debt and financial life so that they could enjoy a guilt-free lifestyle. We established guidelines for their spending and created a realistic debt reduction plan that still allowed for fun in their lives. I checked in every two weeks to review their progress and remind them what their goal was. Long story short, they are just about out of debt and their attitude towards the life they want is beyond what they ever would have imagined.

Michael Smith

CFP®, MBA

Location: Baltimore, MD

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 26

Education: M.B.A., University of Baltimore; B.S. in Business, Towson University

My Story: I started my career in the brokerage industry, but had a strong dislike for the need to “sell stuff and move on.” In fact, my first manager called me a “fruity financial planner” because I spent too much time with clients. My desire to spend time with clients and really help them led me into financial planning for high net worth clients, but something still didn’t feel right. I wanted to help people who really needed help making better financial decisions. That led me to Financial Finesse where I intend to stay as long as they’ll have me around.

Lives I’ve Changed: I met an employee who was trying to decide whether to file bankruptcy or try to pay off a substantial credit card balance. Her friends and family were pushing her toward the “easy option” of bankruptcy. She didn’t feel right about that as she had gotten herself into the mess and wanted to do the hard work to get out. In the three years between our first meeting and our last, she took drastic actions to bring her budget down substantially. It was a complete lifestyle change. Throughout the years we met for “brag sessions,” where I would keep her on track with encouragement and help tracking. The day she told me that she had just made her last credit card payment and was planning to buy her first house is still one of the best days of MY life.

Scott Spann

CFP®, PhD

Location: Charleston, SC

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 15

Education: Ph.D in Personal Financial Planning, Kansas State University; M.A. in Clinical Counseling, The Citadel; B.S. in Psychology, College of Charleston

My Story: I started out in counseling and clinical psychology, but left the field to seek a more strengths-based approach that focused on optimizing well-being. Financial planning called me because I can immediately help others reach their goals in a positive way. Before finding my home at Financial Finesse, I worked for larger financial firms and also had my own planning practice. I love FF because I can help people in a positive way and I also have the opportunity to perform research and shape the industry.

Lives I’ve Changed: I view authentic financial planning as a true helping profession and my passion is to help guide others through financial challenges big and small regardless of their income or net worth. I don’t have one specific success story that has changed me because every thank you I receive motivates me to continue to improve my approach to help others increase their financial wellness.

Daphne Winston

CFP®, CDFA

Location: Chicago, IL

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 14

Education: B.S. of Chemical Engineering, Purdue University; Executive Certificate of Financial Planning, Xavier University

My Story: I started my career with a small firm where my passion for helping widows and divorcees expanded to all people who needed financial guidance around things other than investments, especially for those who didn’t have the resources to become a client. Thankfully I found Financial Finesse and working here has changed my life. I am finally able to do what I enjoy – provide unbiased financial guidance to the masses – while getting paid to do it.

Lives I’ve Changed: I worked with a single mom who managed to pay down a lot of her debt and was able to retire on her own terms without any drastic measures. As a single mom, I know how hard it is, and she really impressed me because she didn’t make a lot of money, she was very soft spoken and humble and she just did what she had to do for her own financial wellness and that of her son.

Doug Spencer

CFP®

Location: Kansas City, KS

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 17

Education: B.S. in Business, Kansas State University

My Story: I started out working in non-profit fundraising before earning my CFP® and joining a regional bank in the trust and investments department. In late 2005, I went on my own in order to be able to work with whomever I wanted. That’s when I found my passion – working as a financial coach with military families and educating them on finances. I knew that this is what I wanted to do and I wanted to do it full time and that’s when I found Financial Finesse. Now I can truly say that I believe that I’ve been able to empower people and give them hope to take charge of their financial future and renew their own American Dream.

Lives I’ve Changed: My favorite story involves back-to-back meetings with a young man and an older man who worked the same job on the same shift. Both had overwhelming debt from purchasing “toys” for their hobbies and both feared their dream of retiring in their early 60’s was being compromised by the debt. While both had options, the young man had time on his side too. It was interesting to almost have a glimpse into this young man’s future and help him avoid having to work any longer than he wanted to. Seeing him walk a few inches taller out of our meeting is what keeps me coming back every day.

Tania Brown

CFP®

Location: Atlanta, GA

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 12

Education: B.A. Pfeiffer University; U.S. Army Veteran

My Story: As an Army veteran and former financial advisor, I realized that my passion was to help people of all income levels become financially secure and decided to step out in faith and look for a way to help, even if it meant only volunteering my services or working for a non-profit. Within of month of making this decision, I heard about Financial Finesse and attended a webcast, and I was hooked. It was one of the best career decisions I ever made. Every day, I have an opportunity to change lives.

Lives I’ve Changed: One of the people I remember the most was a woman struggling financially who could not see a way out and was considering bankruptcy. When we spoke she started crying and talking about how everything looked hopeless. We worked to start tracking her spending, which was an eye opener for her, then we created a spending plan to assign every dollar a job. Within a few months she was on track, paying down her debts and building an emergency fund, without having to declare bankruptcy. It was wonderful to see how her emails changed from fear, to hope, then to steadfast focus on reaching her financial goals.

Kelley Long

CFP®, CPA/PFS

Location: Chicago, IL

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 15

Education: B.S. in Accountancy & Music (Magna Cum Laude), Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University

My Story: I believe that the true essence of financial security is having choices in life. In other words, you don’t have to make decisions outside of your values solely for financial reasons. My entire career as a trust officer, then financial advisor, I’ve sought a way to do this for “everyday people” without having to sell them a product or manage investments while still making a comfortable living. So far, Financial Finesse is the only place I’ve found that enables this fabulous opportunity.

Lives I’ve Changed: My favorite story is a young woman who had received a big promotion and recognized the opportunity to change her financial situation through the jump in income. She lived very frugally: drove a used car, lived with roommates, rarely dined out. But the big increase had her splurging on friends and family out of a sense of guilt. So we set up a budget that included treating friends and family but also allowed her to save for a down payment on a home and get on track to retirement. The best part was seeing her mindset shift to a sense freedom that she simply didn’t allow herself to feel before.

Cynthia Meyer

CFP®,CFA®, ChFC®

Location: New York, NY

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 19

Education: B.S. in Linguistics, Georgetown University

My Story: I am a financial wellness evangelist and I love how my personal mission aligns with Financial Finesse’s. I started out as a political campaign manager, spent eight years with a major Wall Street firm, then taught financial workshops while building a real estate investment portfolio before joining FF in 2015. In my personal time, I enjoy a daily yoga practice, play a mean game of Scrabble™ and battle New Jersey traffic with my husband and children.

Lives I’ve Changed: I am most inspired by the people who deal with whatever comes their way: losing a home during the economic downturn, facing an illness or loss of a spouse, digging out of credit card or student loan debt, etc and still go on to find prosperity and financial balance. A financial wellness program is a judgment-free zone. Wherever you are, start from there.

Mark Dennis

CFP®, DBA

Location: Jacksonville, FL

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 19

Education: Doctor of Business Administration, Keiser University; M.S. in Personal Financial Planning, College for Financial Planning; B.S. in Computer Science, University of Southern Mississippi; U.S. Air Force Veteran

My Story: My path to Financial Finesse has been, and continues to be, influenced by a love of lifelong learning. I have always enjoyed teaching and presenting, particularly when I see how it helps people become better informed and more confident in their financial decisions. After earning my CFP® designation, I went on to complete my master’s degree in personal financial planning. I am delighted to be part of this exciting and innovative group of professionals.

Lives I’ve Changed: I worked with a recently promoted executive facing very expensive medical bills for her husband, the loss of his job, unpaid credit card bills, etc. Although she was grateful for her promotion and increased pay, she was surprised to find they still could not pull the family budget ahead of the bills. We reviewed priorities to change the family’s spending plan, negotiated with creditors and adjusted 401(k) contributions to get them back on track. She was most relieved that more drastic measures wouldn’t be necessary and that a solution was possible with a few tweaks.

Teig Stanley

CFP®

Location: Denver, CO

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 20

Education: B.A. in Cinema & Television Production, University of Southern California

My Story: I started working at age 6 as a child actor, then as a film producer and in other roles in the entertainment industry before I became an options trader for a Wall Street firm. Out of a desire to educate people on finances, I started my own financial planning firm with a friend, which led me to Financial Finesse. I am honored to be part of the elite planner team here, passionately devoted to the financial well-being of everyone we touch.

Lives I’ve Changed: Just a month into my career here I worked with a woman who was raising three children while her husband served a prison sentence. She was grateful that I was there to listen and provide financial guidance for her unique situation without an ounce of judgment. We worked to correct her previous years taxes, created a spending plan and prepared for future events. The best part is seeing her stay on track, empowered to manage her family’s finances.

Brian Kelly

CFP®

Location: Omaha, NE

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 16

Education: B.S. in Psychology, Grace University; U.S. Army Reservist Veteran

My Story: I started my career with a large brokerage firm before eventually opening my own practice in 2005 focused on helping mostly middle-class families and small businesses save for retirement and other goals. I joined Financial Finesse in 2015 in order to expand my financial coaching reach to employees from all walks of life. I’m a member of the Financial Planners Association and I also teach high school students about personal finance and economics.

Lives I’ve Changed: In the short time that I have been with Financial Finesse, I can honestly say that I have made more of an impact on people’s lives than the entire 16 years prior. A man called last month exhausted by the debt he was carrying. We walked through his budget, created a plan to consolidate his debt and use some assets from other sources to jumpstart the plan to pay it off. He found that his situation was not as dire as he had thought, but more importantly, having a plan gave him peace of mind and a less daunting future.

Steve White

CFP®, MBA

Location: Dallas, TX

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 27

Education: M.B.A., Southern Methodist University; B.A. Economics, North Carolina State University

My Story: My passion to help people succeed financially is the reason I’ve spent a majority of my life as a financial planner. I’ve spent over 20 years as a Certified Financial Planner™ professional and helped numerous people achieve financial success. The reason I am at Financial Finesse is to allow me to help people without being forced to sell them something.

Lives I’ve Changed: I’ve changed the lives of family, lifelong friends, people I’ve only had a professional relationship with and mostly people that I have had only a few conversations with.  My goal is to help people figure out how to achieve financial success on their own.

Chris Walker

CFP®, CPA/PFS

Location: Nashville, TN

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 17

Education: Masters of Accountancy, University of Alabama; B.S. Accounting, University of Alabama

My Story: I started out as a CPA doing tax planning and preparation services for clients but quickly found that I also greatly enjoyed providing personal financial guidance in other areas.  I later joined a financial advisory firm that mainly served clients with large portfolios.  Over time it was frustrating to meet so many people who truly needed financial help but couldn’t be served because they didn’t meet the investment minimums. I joined Financial Finesse to help provide the financial education and guidance that we all need in our daily lives, regardless of where we are at the time.

Lives I’ve Changed: The most fulfilling moments have involved helping people in their time of greatest need, including a widow who lost her husband of 50 years.  During her difficult transition period, I was able to help guide her through the various things that needed to be accomplished in her new stage of life, including an intensive effort to obtain the correct Social Security survivor benefits that she needed.  Helping those in their time of need, no matter what that involves, is what makes this work so rewarding.

Derek Woods

CFP®

Location: Denver, CO

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 16

Education: B.A. Colorado State University

My Story: Diverse is the best way to describe my time in the financial services industry. I have had the opportunity to experience the business as an advisor, wholesaler, manager and client. I have worked with Fortune 500 companies and even started my own firm at one point. In each role, I was able to assist people from all walks of life in improving their finances. I’m fortunate to have learned a few things over the years and am just thankful to have the opportunity to pass on some of that knowledge to those that I work with.

Lives I’ve Changed: What I love about this business is that every day I have the chance to improve someone’s life. My personal philosophy is to be a little better today than I was yesterday. I take that same approach when coaching clients. I don’t know if I change lives so much as I try to make them a little better today than they were yesterday.

Cyrus Purnell

CFP®, MBA

Location: Memphis, TN

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 17

Education: M.B.A., Christian Brothers University; B.S. in Finance, University of Tennessee

My Story: While driving me to school each morning, my mom used to listen to “How to Manage Your Money” a financial advice show. I was struck by how the host would help people work their way through financial situations day after day and how effectively a short conversation can help relieve someone of stress and set them on a positive path. After college I started working at regional bank in financial planning and eventually ended up in trust administration. After 17 years, I found that while I was offering an impactful financial planning experience for a small group of people, I felt I should be making an impact on a broader scope. Financial Finesse allows me to help every employee I engage with using well-researched strategies that equip them for success regardless of their net worth.

Lives I’ve Changed: I recently spoke with someone who was nearing retirement but was very uncertain if she could maintain a reasonable lifestyle for her and her disabled spouse. After talking with her about what she had available we concluded that her goal was attainable and she could retire even more comfortably if she followed some simple changes. You could hear the weight come off her shoulders when we put it all together and she could see the big picture. That is what we get a chance to do every day here at Financial Finesse. We take away some of the uncertainty and help our clients’ employees forge a way forward.

Vekevia Tillman-Jones

CFP®, MBA

Location: Orlando, FL

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 10

Education: M.B.A., Florida State University – College of Business

My Story:

I have always had a genuine interest in finances and started my career in management in the banking industry and later moved into the realm of portfolio consulting.  I enjoyed educating and assisting people in understanding options to meet their personal financial goals, but didn’t like the focus on a particular product or portfolio management. I worked with people to develop a plan for managing their finances and it was very rewarding to see them enter into a place of peace with their financial situation. I have a passion for financial planning and strongly believe that thorough planning today provides for a better financial position tomorrow.  I appreciate the opportunity to assist people from all walks of life with their finances and to be able to see them benefit from it.

Lives I’ve Changed:

Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to shed light in areas where people felt their financial situation couldn’t improve.  I worked with people to see that they could reach their financial goals. People were able to stop living paycheck to paycheck and start saving for their future.  Others were able to find balance saving for retirement while saving to fund their kid’s education. I was able to help families discover options to make sure their family would be protected in the event that the financial provider in the family was no longer able to work. Whatever the financial goal, I enjoy being a resource for people.

James Jacobucci

CFP®, MBA

Location: Chicago, IL

Years of Financial Planning Experience: 10

Education: M.B.A., Loyola University – Chicago; B.S. in Accountancy, University of Illinois – Urbana

My Story:

I spent the first 14 years of my working life in the manufacturing industry. While I was doing a good job in the eyes of my employer, the work I was doing was not meaningful to myself, nor was it making a difference in the lives of other people. I decided to change careers and become a financial advisor and focus on an area that was of great personal interest to me – investing.  Over the years, I came to really enjoy helping people understand the world of personal finance meet their financial objectives.  As a resident financial planner at Financial finesse I have the opportunity to educate and help those in need.

Lives I’ve Changed:

I met a young woman while volunteering at an event called Financial Planning Days.  She had struggled to find a steady job that provided a consistent income.  While I did provide some financial guidance to her, the guidance that made the biggest difference was more personal.  She had the intellectual ability to get on the right financial track, but lacked the confidence to do so.  It was clear that she could achieve her goals if she had the confidence to make some changes. We spent a good deal of time just talking about her life and where improvements could be made.  When I told her that I had the all the confidence that she could and would change her life, it really seemed to strike something inside of her, and improve her outlook on her financial situation.

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