As CEO, Heather Fortner leans into her passion for listening – to the SignatureFD team, our clients, and the industry – to create and implement the organization’s vision and mission to impact the lives of 10,000 families.
Practicing a “coach with empathy” leadership style, Heather leverages her unique ability to harmonize people’s passions and talents to build teams and lead organizations that deliver excellent and inspiring client experiences.
Previously serving as Chief Operating Officer, Chief Compliance Officer, and President of SignatureFD, Fortner has learned, navigated, and held strategic oversight for every aspect of the organization.
A highly sought-after leader in the industry, Fortner is regularly asked to speak on the ever-changing landscape of wealth management. Additionally, in 2021, Heather was awarded CEO of the Year by WealthManagement.com for the category Individual RIA Firm Leaders.
Prior to joining SignatureFD in February of 2003, Heather was senior operations supervisor at a trust company, managing all portfolio and security operations. She also worked for an investment management firm in Marietta, Georgia, as a financial associate.
Heather holds a Bachelor of Finance from Kennesaw State University, a Master of Science in professional counseling from Georgia State University, and is an Investment Adviser Certified Compliance Professional®. Additionally, she is a graduate of the Schwab Executive Leadership program and the G2 Institute.
Connect with Heather on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Journey to C-Suite
- Navigation of SignatureFD through the pandemic to having one of the strongest years in the organization’s history
- Coach with empathy
- Heather’s master’s in psychology helped in leading a financial firm
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio brought to you by on pay built in Atlanta. On Pay is the top rated payroll and HR software anywhere. Get one month free at onpay. Now here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:31] Lee Kantor here, another episode of Atlanta Business Radio, and this is going to be a fun one today on the show, we have Heather Fortner with Signature PhD. Welcome.
Heather Fortner: [00:00:41] Thank you, Lee. Thanks for having
Lee Kantor: [00:00:42] Me. Well, I am excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us a little bit about signature F.D.. How are you serving, folks?
Heather Fortner: [00:00:48] Yeah. Signature of D. We are a comprehensive wealth management firm. And we are the home we like to call it being the home of net worth. While so we believe that there is a beautiful, sweet spot where a person’s wealth and their worth, the things that are actually worthwhile to them overlap, and that if you can identify what those things are, that you can create a plan that encompasses a person’s entire wealth that helps them achieve their net worth while over time.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:21] Now do you find that folks aren’t thinking about that as often as they should be like? It’s something that gets kind of procrastinated down the road.
Heather Fortner: [00:01:31] Yeah, you know, I think that there are seasons, right? And sometimes it’s really hard in the moment when you have issues that are pressing down on you that you have to resolve, whether it’s the work compensation issue or you’ve got an issue with your child, or maybe a parent has a need or you’ve got some health care issues. Sometimes it’s really hard to take a step back, or maybe two or three steps back and look at your wealth in totality and look at it from a comprehensive nature and understand that decisions. They’re cumulative, right? And they matter in the sense of Are you ensuring, do you have a quality thought partner that can actually step back with you and help you think about, OK, yes, this is the decision we need to make in this moment. But but ten years from now, five years from now, 20 years from now, this is where you want to be. And what do we need to put into place today to help you achieve those goals? And and are you sure, have you even taken the time given yourself the space to actually think about what those goals actually are and what those things are that are most important to you? And sometimes it’s just, you know, having somebody that you trust that can come alongside and and help you create that space to have a more holistic viewpoint and plan thinking through the things that matter to you over the long term.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:03] Now, when a person, if they have the self-awareness to be that kind of aware of all of those kind of tentacles that are coming out and that impact their life and that really impact their worth and the value and that their dream of how they want their story to end. Why is Signature Ph.D. the right folks to be that kind of quarterback or the point person in that in managing all of those tentacles?
Heather Fortner: [00:03:33] Yeah, I think because not only are we experts on the wealth side of the house, but we have a unique offering on the work side of the house as well. And so one of the things that that we’ve leaned into over many, many, many years is how to have those deeper conversations and what those deeper conversations look like and how to help guide clients through those. Some of those you get through different training and some of those you get through experience. And so I think we’ll be twenty five years old next year. We’ve had enormous amount of success over that time, and we’ve been so privileged to serve so many clients over that period of time that you build, quite frankly, an expertize on both sides of the house. And so leaning into that conversation, framing the conversation differently, thinking through wealth differently, we think through wealth pillars as grow, protect, give and live and thinking through how your wealth translates into each of those buckets so that each component of your wealth actually serves a purpose. It provides a higher connection to your wealth overall, which quite frankly, in life, connection is everything.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:58] Now, as part of a person’s kind of team of trusted advisors, it makes sense to have a financial person. It makes sense to have an insurance person, a banking person, an accounting person, a lawyer. Is it something that if I’m with signature fd that now I just have signature Ph.D. and then you’re all of those things, or you’re going to work with my trust advisors? Or is it a combination?
Heather Fortner: [00:05:28] It’s a combination of both. So. We do have in in-house experts, not only obviously on the financial side of the house, but in the insurance side of the house as well, we have an affiliated accounting firm that is full of CPA types of experts, but we also work with all different types of professionals for the client to help bring all of that advice together to ensure that it’s not a piecemeal solution. You know, if a financial solution or true wealth solution should be a comprehensive solution, and quite frankly, that’s part of what’s been broken in our industry for such a long period of time is that it was really the client’s responsibility to ensure that they had all the right pieces working together, and that all of those professionals were informed along the way and had all the right information. And sometimes the one professional didn’t know what the other professional was doing, and that could be counterintuitive or counterproductive to the plan. And so having someone like Signature PhD at the helm, bringing all of those pieces together in a comprehensive way into truly your wealth activation model that that really is, I think, a difference maker for our clients.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:51] So now if I’m working with Signature PhD, is it kind of a one stop shop in the sense of I’ll give you a real life example. Sure. About myself, I have a financial adviser, and they were talking about something technical that had to do with accounting. I have an accountant. I had to go to this accountant. I had to ask them the question, which I knew the answer to. I just had to kind of get them to bless the answer, right? And then I go back to the financial person and they said, Great, now we can execute the thing they want to execute. But then I got a bill from the accountant. For what I thought was a lot of money to answer the question. So sometimes the teams aren’t, you know, the advisors aren’t kind of in lockstep of how to serve me as the client, and I’m kind of getting nickeled and dimed by the variety of people because they’re not on the same team. They all have their own team, they’re there and they have their own agenda.
Heather Fortner: [00:07:56] Yeah, and that’s hard because, you know, professionals do deserve to get paid for the work that they do. One of the things that that we have in-house is a lot of our advisors are actually CPAs as well. And so being able to have expertize in those areas in-house, you know, it’s critically important. There are some times that you can you can get answers to the questions that you need just through the expertize that we have in-house. However, there are times that we obviously don’t draft legal documents in-house, right? So if if a client needs an estate document drafted, we actually do need to to work with the estate attorney to get that done. However, we are helping to manage that process all along the way, right?
Lee Kantor: [00:08:42] And that by you, like, I’m working with you and I have some relationship with you that you’re being compensated fairly and we feel that you’re being compensated fairly, but you’re kind of watching my back when it comes to this. It’s not. I’m getting the I’m asking more than telling, but that’s the impression I’m getting is that I’m not getting kind of nickel and dimed along the way that I’m have a relationship with you. That part of your job is to kind of watch my back and not to send me, you know, kind of a million bills.
Heather Fortner: [00:09:13] That’s absolutely correct. Lee, it sounds like you need to come on over to signature.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:18] Look, I I’m always looking for a better solution. So now walk me through this first time because a lot of times when people make a change, when it comes to this, they’re not going from nothing to this. They’re going from something to this. Can you talk about what that transition looks like when they make that change? What are some of the things that you like to know ahead of time to see if it’s the right fit? And number two, how do you help kind of make a smooth transition?
Heather Fortner: [00:09:49] Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s a great question, and I think you’re right, most people have something right, even even if they’ve just had to do a tax return like they’re getting compensation somewhere, they have had to do some sort of tax return. So whether or not they have a professional that’s helping them coordinate all of that, they have something. But part of the original, you know, first conversation is just trying to get to what does that person need like? What is it that they’re looking for? What brought them in many, many times you will find that when someone first seeks out help, it is because there has been some sort of transaction or some sort of problem or some sort of transition that was unforeseen that that led them to actually finally seek out help. So understanding you, that original pain point is is critically important, but then gathering a bigger scope of of what type of relationship do you want to have? What do you expect? What does success look like to you? How how do you like to work, quite frankly. You know, we like to work with clients that like to delegate things that want to be involved and want to have a conversation. But there can. There can only be one real quarterback. And so it’s it’s understanding how we work. It’s understanding your expectations and your needs and then really having a frank conversation about whether or not that’s a good fit. I think that’s where all of the conversations should start. I’m a very, very firm believer. That Clear is kind. And so when you are establishing a relationship up front, understanding what success looks like and what expectations are up front and how our firm might be able to help you as really the best place to start.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:56] And then once you decide, OK, this is a good fit. What is kind of that onboarding look like? How long does that take and what is that kind of look like in terms of, you know, getting together and what you need in order for the relationship to work well?
Heather Fortner: [00:12:11] Yeah, it can look different for different people, but we like to have, you know, at least for the first year, for the first 12 to 18 months or a pretty regular cadence, probably a quarterly cadence of identifying what what does the designed plan look like? So we spend a lot of time on the front side really digging. Into what does what does this design look like, what do we need to do, when do we need to do it? How do we need to get it done? And then having some regular cadence probably quarterly to dos of, you know, here are the highest priority things that we need to get done in the next 90 days. And then keeping that cadence until you’ve actually managed to get through probably a 12 to 18 month, it could be longer depending on how complex the issues are. But you’ve addressed at that point in time what the wealth activation model should look like, what you want it to look like and you’ve made some significant progress. And then, you know, it’s a matter of client preference, quite frankly, of how often do we want to check in back to expectations and relationship, right? This is this is intended to be a long term relationship, not a transaction. This is this is a partnership.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:36] Now does the profile of your clients, do you have kind of personas? Are they, you know, all at retirement age or mostly or retirement age? Are they kind of young and they’re just starting to build any wealth? Like, do you have, you know, entrepreneurs, professional athletes like do you have a sweet spot?
Heather Fortner: [00:13:55] Yeah, I love that question. So one of the things that that really separates Signature PhD is our belief in community. And so we’ve actually organized around initiatives. We call them initiatives or community. So we do have a signature entrepreneur community, a signature exact, a signature pro, a signature women, a signature law, signature health. All of these are areas where we have found over time that clients a they tend to have very specific and similar needs based on the type of community that they identify with. And then also, you know, one of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is just that people need to belong. They want to connect somewhere, they want to identify with people like them. And so we have found that our advisors over time, usually they usually have a passion for serving a certain type of community. And so it’s been this beautiful process that’s unfolded in our business over the last probably 15 years where we have developed these communities, where we serve these like minded and similar types of clients in community with very special and specific needs that those advisors have developed an expertize in serving.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:25] So now when you’re working with folks, it gets to the point, I would imagine for a lot of your clients that it’s not about accumulating more wealth necessarily, but it’s about legacy. That conversation is very personal and and intimate in the sense that if you’re really trying to help the person. Leave something behind and and have an impact that goes beyond themselves and their time here, it takes a lot of trust and a really solid relationship that’s probably built up over years. Can you talk about how that comes about? It sounds like you at least broach it at the beginning, and maybe that’s you start it with the end in mind. I don’t know how, how people feel about talking about that, depending where they are in their life, but can you talk about the legacy part of this?
Heather Fortner: [00:16:20] Sure, absolutely. I think so. We have a fundamental belief. I talked about before core pillars of wealth, which that we believe all of your wealth can fit into, which is grow, protect, give and live. And when you think about when we think about the give bucket of wealth there are, there’s intended giving and there’s unintended giving. And so you can think about intended giving as I want to leave money to a charity or I want to give to my kids or I want to give to my family or I want to give to this organization. Unintended giving can be I have to give to the government like I, you know, I’m doing my tax planning for next year, and I understand I’m going to have to give a certain amount to the government. And so there are certain strategies that can be developed and used in an overall wealth plan that will help you minimize your unintended giving and maximize your intended giving. And so really, just having creating a space to have that that mindset conversation around, Hey, look, we understand that this can be hard, but but there are ways that we can lean into this conversation and actually do more with your wealth now, potentially even even today, that will create a longer legacy for the for the people or the causes or the charities or the communities that you love. Let’s lean into that conversation now, and I think when you frame it that way and when you when you show people that there are opportunities for them to maximize that legacy very specifically with without necessarily having to have, you know, these super hard conversations about death or dying or whatever. But but just really of, you know, I do want my legacy to be something around this and potentially there are opportunities or options or alternatives or strategies or solutions that that we have seen over time in our experience that we can bring to the table at the very beginning that will make that a part of the conversation ongoing.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:42] So as the CEO, can you share maybe a story that is a moment where you’re like, this is work that is meaningful and rewarding, that this is why I get up in the morning?
Heather Fortner: [00:18:58] Yeah. You know, I’ve got Lord, I’ve got. One hundred of those I’ve been fortunate to be at signature. It’ll be nineteen years in February and I’ve I’ve literally. You know, I’ve literally grown up through this organization. I think one of the. Most impactful. Conversations that I’ve ever been a part of was was part of a family meeting where a very wealthy family was was very for the very first time, having the conversation with their kids around legacy exactly what we were just talking about late around. You know, the extent of their wealth around what their intentions were for their wealth, what it meant for them, what they wanted for their kids and for their grandkids, and how much time and effort and work they had spent and structuring things appropriately over the years to to take care of of not only their kids, but for generations to come, but also wanting their their kids to be to carry on the legacy of stewardship that that this family had had already had. And so, you know, for me, my undergrad is in finance, but my master’s is in professional counseling, and it was an enormously impactful moment for me, recognizing that there was a real way to impact families in a generational sense when you can help facilitate quality conversation and quality communication around money.
Heather Fortner: [00:20:59] And quite honestly, when I, you know, way back when I was getting my degree in professional counseling, I just had this belief because of some of the things that I had experienced when I was growing up that, you know, money, whether you have it or whether you don’t, it can create issues in families and that if families and people were better. Equipped to communicate well around money that that we could change communities, we could change families. And so that was just a real, you know, just a real sweet moment for me of of seeing how those two studies of art and science came together to have truly generational impact for that family. And so that that’s just one of hundreds of stories that I’ve seen, not only for our clients, quite frankly, but for our team members as well of how leaning into truly net worthwhile it changes lives.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:06] Yeah, the impact is real in the ripples are real and you see that play out and especially in a room like that where you’re seeing generations probably together and you can see how the impact is going to be of everybody in that room and plus everybody in the rooms that they’re going to go into when they leave that room so that it must be very powerful and rewarding work to see the difference you’re making in families all over the place.
Heather Fortner: [00:22:30] I love it. I absolutely love it. And I think that that’s why I’m so passionate about what signature PhD has to offer, because I do believe that the way that we bring our world back together and and help combat some of this divisiveness and and anger and things we see today, right, is through basic community and through basic families and ability to have better plans and better advice and better communication around money. I think it’s just one of those core core educational things that it’s an easy way for us to make a difference in a lot of people’s lives.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:13] So if someone out there is looking for a change and wants to learn more about the signature PhD and your holistic approach to wealth and worth, can you share the website, please?
Heather Fortner: [00:23:27] Yeah, absolutely. It’s W w w dot signature, Ph.D..
Lee Kantor: [00:23:33] Well, Heather, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing such important work and we appreciate you.
Heather Fortner: [00:23:39] Lee, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:42] All right. Lee Kantor We’ll see, y’all next time on Atlanta Business Radio.
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