2009-01-28 / Profiles

Flint Financial: keeping clients happy in a changing world

SPECIAL TO FLORIDA WEEKLY

Sherri and Eric Hynden Sherri and Eric Hynden At a time when bank failures, brokerage meltdowns, wildly fluctuating markets and alleged rogue investment gurus like Bernard Madoff dominate the financial landscape, Eric and Sherri Hynden, the soft-spoken founders of the Fort Myers-based Flint Financial Group, quietly go about the business of helping to secure the financial futures of their clients.

It hasn't always been easy going head-tohead with huge New York-based firms, they concede, but 25 years of steady performance and a solid base of clients have helped to level the playing field.

"It was a hurdle to overcome in the beginning, being a boutique firm," says Mr. Hynden.

Early on, though, the couple realized that their firm's size and their highly personalized approach and meticulous attention to client service set them apart from many of their larger competitors.

It was their initial edge.

"We had the opportunity to take advantage (of being a smaller firm)," Mrs. Hynden notes.

Flint Financial's "four-appointment process" is representative of their orientation. The process begins with an evaluation of the client's needs, then proceeds to the creation of a written proposal, which includes a detailed outline of all costs and fees. The third appointment involves the implementation of the plan, and the fourth is a 45-day follow-up. Throughout the process and thereafter clients are encouraged to contact Flint whenever a question arises. The old complaint, "I can't get my financial advisor on the telephone", does not apply.

"It really is about customer service," says Mrs. Hynden. "A live person answers our phone. We return all calls within 24 hours, and if we can't get the information for you within that time, we'll let you know why."

And if a client is indisposed and in need of financial counseling, the Hyndens aren't opposed to leaving the office.

Says Mrs. Hynden, "We've gone to the hospital to visit (clients) or to a nursing home to see someone."

"We survive on clients being happy and referring people to us," says Mr. Hynden, who points out that they now represent children and grandchildren of early clients.

As a result of this wide-ranging network of referrals, Flint Financial's 300 or so clients can be found in 28 states.

While the firm is indeed small by Wall Street standards, it is no mom-and-pop operation. Personalized service requires manpower, and Flint has eight employees, counting the Hyndens.

The dangers in today's market are real, the Hyndens acknowledge, but they say the greatest impediments facing the average investor are fear and confusion, which often lead to indecision and inaction.

"People are much more fearful now than they were in the early '80s," Mrs. Hynden says. "They didn't have CNBC going 24/7 then. Many of the cable shows are giving advice constantly, but it may be the absolute wrong advice for some people. A lot of bad information is going out."

The Hyndens, naturally, believe that everyone — even young people in their 20s beginning their first serious jobs — needs a financial advisor. But they also advise extreme caution when selecting that advisor, especially in these perilous economic times.

"It is very important that clients get a statement from a third-party custodian who holds the money and accurately reports the value of investments," says Mr. Hynden, adding that Flint Financial's Advisory Firm uses TD Ameritrade as its custodian for their managed portfolios. "It is all about disclosure, disclosure and more disclosure."

Mr. Hynden is wary of financial firms that subsist extensively or exclusively on commissions. Flint's method of compensation primarily is fee-based, which essentially means they make more only if the client makes more.

"If (a financial advisor) is living off commissions, then they make their money by selling you something," he says.

The Hyndens, both 49, met while students at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. They graduated in 1981, he with a degree in math and she as an economics major. Both hold Chartered Financial Consultants degrees from The American College. They began their financial careers at Merrill Lynch in Fort Myers, and left to form Hynden and Hynden Independent Financial Consultants (Flint's predecessor)

in 1983.

Away from work, the couple enjoys fishing, boating, tennis and cycling. Mrs. Hynden stays involved in an independent Bible study group. They are active members of the First Assembly Ministries, where Mr. Hynden serves on the Finance Committee. Their sons, Benjamin and Daniel, are college students.

They say that it has not been difficult to balance the roles of husband, wife and business partners. "Working with your spouse is not for everyone," adds Mr. Hynden, "but it works very well for us."

Their secret?

"We try not to talk about work at home," Mrs. Hynden explains. And then with a pause and smile she adds, "We really do try."

The Hynden's maintain offices at 12629 New Brittany Blvd., Fort Myers, and can be reached at 936-2777.

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