During a layover in Minneapolis, Lorraine Ell, CEO of Better Money Decisions in Santa Fe, N.M., talked about her forthright and funny new book, Bozos, Monsters and Whiz-Bangs: Bad Advice from Financial Advisors and How to Avoid It!
A resident of Albuquerque, Ell has logged plenty of air miles around the world, in a professional career that has spanned nearly 50 years — beginning when she was 14 and became a hair washer at her mother’s salon.
“I actually have not written before, but I did teach writing as a part-time thing, just for fun. Here’s why I wrote the book: I find it very hard to understand why financial advisors don’t do the right thing all the time: It’s a wonderful business, a lucrative business, and it’s so easy to do the right thing for clients and do well for yourself. Whether they do or do not take my cue, my purpose was to at least put it out there and say let’s try and do better,’’ Ell said.
Most of her clientele is nearing or in retirement. She is currently the only advisor in New Mexico who holds the Chartered Federal Employee Benefits Consultant designation, which enables her to provide financial and retirement advice to federal employees. She also is CEO of Better Insurance Decisions.
Better Money Decisions, founded in 2014, has $85 million in assets under management and has a clientele that Ell described as coming from a “unique demographic.’’ All stories in the book are based on actual client experiences; names and specifics have been changed.
“We have a couple of major clients in New Mexico: Los Alamos (National Lab) and Sandia (National Laboratories); basically, they are both defense contractors. Their employees are ready to retire or have retired and come from a number of backgrounds. In general, they are all well-educated. We also have a very unusual situation in that they have (government) pensions. With guaranteed income and Social Security, you use a different approach in how you plan and strategize to manage that cash flow,’’ Ell said.
Ell tells clients (and readers) not to believe the scaremongers who insist that Social Security is going broke or is a Ponzi scheme; she warns against paying off a home mortgage; she describes the pitfalls of Wall Street’s packaged investment products and how to avoid churning scams; and she outlines the pluses and minuses of annuities, mutual funds and bonds. Long-term, passive investing is her firm’s strategy.
Women clients make up a sizable portion of Better Money Decisions’ roster. Four out of the six firm advisors are women. “It’s just critically important for women to understand finance and investing, whether they are married or have a partner or are single. They want to and need to be educated and to be responsible for their finances,” Ell says.
A native of Pittsburgh, Ell and her husband, George Lawrence-Ell, have moved around the country and the world, for adventure and new experiences. She began working in financial services as a stockbroker at Drexel Burnham Lambert and later, at a small regional brokerage. Her husband, a business and education consultant, speaks six languages; she speaks English and German.
“My husband and I enjoyed living overseas and we were involved in a variety of circumstances. We’d take certain jobs and assignments because they were unique: in Iran, we worked for General Telephone and Electronics; in Saudi Arabia, my husband helped establish King Faisal University; he helped pull together a curriculum for the English department; 40 years later, it’s still there.’’
In Budapest, Hungary, after the fall of communism in the late 1980s, Ell and her husband saw an opportunity. “We marketed American health and beauty products because they were very limited there at the time and European products were very expensive.’’
They wound up in New Mexico by chance. “We went to New Mexico on a whim. We said, “Let’s go someplace different.’’ We had just returned from Vienna. We hadn’t been to the southwest. We were driving on US 10 and when we got to the juncture of 10 and I 25, we wondered, “Should we go to Albuquerque or Phoenix? We turned right. I felt like Bugs Bunny!’’