Steven Wilson is a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Financial Planner, as well as the majority owner of Steven L. Wilson and Associates of Certified Public Accountants LLP. He now has three offices scattered throughout Oklahoma, and has experienced much in his long history of serving his clients. We sat down with him to discuss the secret of his success, and his answer was a pleasant surprise. In his own words: “I do what I do because I enjoy it. I enjoy working with clients to help them achieve their goals.” Steve is one of those rare individuals who honestly enjoys his work because he gets to help people every day.
Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Steven was fortunate enough to grow up in a tight-knit family of overachievers. His father grew up on a farm with an expectation that he would stay there and pass it on to his family, but he wanted to do something different with his life. Steven’s father pursued his education, provided for his family and eventually became a licensed engineer.
“The thing I probably admired most about my father was his discipline,” Steven says, “and I eventually followed in his footsteps by opening my own CPA practice and going out on my own.” Steven’s family grew up “middle-middle class,” as he describes it, so he comes from humble beginnings. Still, Steven was able to attend Oklahoma State University, where he earned degrees in economics and accounting — mostly because his father expressed an interest in investments and the economy. After Steven graduated, he moved to Dallas, Texas, for a while and worked for Arthur Andersen, where he received training that helped him in his career.
Steven returned to Tulsa to work in a small, family-owned oil company, but felt called to do something more. Tough times in the oil industry meant pricing issues that negatively impacted profits. Because he was doing the company’s taxes, Steven recognized that they were going to have to make major changes and reduce costs to be successful. Knowing that their cash flow was getting tight, he suggested that he do tax work on a contract basis, and the company reluctantly accepted even though they didn’t want to lose him as an employee. “I had so many friends starting their own businesses, so I opened a tax practice,” Steven said. And the first key client he had was the same oil company that he worked for. That company became his anchor client, which allowed him to start out on his own. “Six or seven members of that family, and probably ten or so businesses, are still clients today,” Steve said. “So that turned out to be a great relationship.”
Relationships are an important theme in Steven’s story. His relationship with his clients is what escalated his practice. He gradually began getting referrals from people he knew, and his business started to grow over the years. “The marketing for me was primarily talking to friends and acquaintances,” Steven said. “They didn’t necessarily all become clients, but they encouraged me.” Spurred on by the encouragement, Steven also spoke to other CPAs about their experiences. And even though the market wasn’t always easy to navigate at the time, Steven managed to keep things afloat.
Steven would do taxes for a few individuals and businesses, and then in the early 1990s, Steven began experiencing a curious situation: He would make financial recommendations and referrals, but his clients would come back and ask him to handle it for them. “I didn’t really even have anyone to refer people to in Tulsa,” Steven said. “And when I would recommend something to a client for tax purposes, they would go down the street to a broker who unfortunately didn’t understand their taxes, didn’t attempt to contact me to make sure we’re on the same page, and would sometimes set up the wrong type of account.” Needless to say, it was a very frustrating experience, and to Steven the whole thing felt wrong, as if he wasn’t serving his clients to the best of his ability.
Herb Vest had already made it possible for CPAs to become financial advisors as well, so when Steven came across Avantax Wealth Management, he was interested. He met with an Avantax Advisor in town, Bill VanSickle, and eventually decided the opportunity was perfect for him. There was a learning curve though, and one of the biggest hurdles Steven had to overcome was picking out the best investment for his clients. “I did a lot of my own analysis,” he said. “I’d have these massive spreadsheets comparing different mutual funds within categories, but of course now it’s a lot easier.” But he utilized the support personnel at Avantax Wealth Management to help him with his business, and learned about the different kinds of products on his own. To say Steven is an avid learner is a bit of an understatement, though. He wanted to learn so much about the market that he went back to school in 2013 to get a PhD. On the way, he learned about behavior and the psychology of investing.
Steven had a team behind him, motivating him to stay positive and helping him deal with any obstacle that might arise. That team was his family. “I was pretty young when I started,” he said. “And I’m not sure I knew what it took to be successful. I just knew I needed clients and one of the most important things in being successful was my family support, my wife and my kids.”
“My wife’s very supportive of what I do, and she’s been supportive even when I wanted to do crazy things.” The two spouses are always looking out for each other, and they have plenty of fun. “For my fortieth birthday, my wife sent me to professional umpire school. I’ve always loved baseball and I’d umpired since I was fourteen years old, so she sent me off to the school to get trained the same way Major League professional umpires are trained.” She even covered his work while he was attending.
Believing in the plan
Financial planning is a large part of Steven’s priorities now. “I’m a big believer in plans,” he said. “I tell clients now that the first thing I want do is create a financial plan – it’s part of what I do, it’s part of how I establish a baseline, it’s part of how I evaluate whether we’re on track.” Steve focuses on trends, evidence and his personal expertise to present the best options to his clients. He educates his clients and meets with them regularly to make sure they’re still on track. But it takes a variety of approaches to achieve success, the same thing doesn’t work for everyone, and people’s needs change over time. “I find it almost impossible to give my clients investment advice if I don’t know the tax side of it,” he said. “I find the two so closely interwoven.” Examining both sides of things helps him do better tax planning and better investment planning. “I think Avantax has the right investment approach, and I don’t think you can confidently do holistic financial planning almost any other way.”
Making a difference
Enjoying what you do is great, but making a difference in someone else’s life is a unique talent. Steven works hard to provide his clients with phenomenal service, using all of his experience to make the best out of their financial situation. And even though it isn’t easy, he still enjoys it due in part to the support and advice he gets from his fellow CPAs. “I will say it’s not just the client relationships; it is also the Avantax relationships,” Steven said. “The thing I like about the Vest family is that people help each other. We don’t have cut-throat competition amongst ourselves; I can get help from people all over the country. They’re always willing to help you, they’re always willing to share ideas.” Having a country-wide support system makes it easier for Steven to accomplish his best every day. And that’s what makes his job even more enjoyable: a positive support system with different perspectives from people all over the country.