Broward’s Institute of Financial Wellness is making the consumer finance industry less confusing
One in four Americans have no retirement savings. Of those that do have some savings, they don’t have enough: the median retirement savings for Americans in their 50s is $117,000. Experts suggest having a nest egg of about ten times your salary before retirement. By those calculations, Americans in their 50s should have around a half-million dollars in their piggy bank.
Retirement savings is just one of the myriad of issues facing consumers today when it comes to navigating the financial landscape. But two Broward-based brothers are building a startup that can help kickstart American’s financial health.
Meet Erik and Darren Sussman, co-founders of the Institute of Financial Wellness (IFW). Darren has a tech background, having launched and successfully exited TheaterMania, a digital platform that connects the theater industry with consumers. Erik has been in the financial services industry for almost three decades, including stints at AXA, John Hancock Financial Services, and MassMutual.
In early 2018, Erik and Darren joined forces to create IFW, an online platform that has the twofold goal of helping consumers get their financial house in order while also helping certified financial planners find clients. Around that time, Darren relocated to Fort Lauderdale from New York (Erik had been here since 2005).
“One of the biggest struggles in our industry is that some financial planners are great practitioners, but they struggle to market themselves and figure out ways to get in front of people,” Erik told Refresh Miami. IFW currently works with 30 financial professionals, most of whom have decades worth of experience.
IFW’s website has a large – and growing – amount of financial resources covering topics like investing, planning for retirement, and finding tax efficiencies. They also host free webinars led by financial professionals.
According to Erik, 300 people a week attend IFW’s webinars. Many of those customers then decide to work with one of IFW’s financial planners to get a tailored strategy to help them achieve their financial goals.
“Our advisors are independent and unbiased,” said Erik. This stands in contrast to financial planners at many name-brand firms, who might be expected to purchase assets that are favorable to their firm rather than in their clients’ best interest.
Much of the innovation powering IFW happens outside consumers’ view. For instance, Darren noted that IFW has developed software to enable financial providers to run more efficient meetings by easily creating investment scenarios to share with clients in real-time. However, Darren underscored the value of the human touch: “there will always be a need for a professional” to help humans interpret the proliferation of financial data at our fingertips.
The pandemic has been a boon for IFW’s business. “It put financial preparedness in the front of peoples’ minds,” said Darren. “It accelerated the speed at which we could implement our strategy,” he continued, explaining that they had been providing services in a digital-first environment since before many consumers had even heard of Zoom.
Currently, IFW is self-financed. However, Darren and Erik signaled that taking external funds sometime down the road is not off the table. Looking forward, the duo is excited to rapidly scale their audience by creating more content to help consumers in South Florida and beyond.