Designing legacies through financial planning

Early in his college career, Skyler Denny was convinced he was going to be an offensive lineman in the NFL. However, life had other plans and he was put back on track toward another longtime interest – financial planning.        

Skyler Denny ’16, a financial planner and graduate of Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, owns Legacy Financial Designs in Spring. (Courtesy photo)

From an early age, Denny had an interest in financial planning, in large part due to hearing his parents discuss the complexities of their own taxes as small business owners. He began reading books on money management and financial planning in sixth grade.

Denny graduated from the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in May 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics with an emphasis on finance and real estate and a minor in financial planning. After six years as a professional advisor and financial planner at two large firms, he and his wife Jordan opened Legacy Financial Designs in Spring, Texas in early 2021. The firm provides financial planning services as well as portfolio management for individuals and small businesses.

Denny is part of an industry that has seen a skyrocketing demand — and for which companies are seeking talented, well-prepared people who can provide sound professional advice to those who need it  In fact, the demand for qualified certified financial planners made it necessary to cap the number of registered employers interviewing prospective Texas A&M students at the recent Texas A&M Financial Planning Career and Education Conference.

The financial planning program is currently offered as a minor for undergraduates with plans to expand. Students who successfully complete all coursework requirements are eligible to sit for the Certified Financial Planner Exam. For professionals, an extended learning certificate program is offered for those wanting to become a certified financial planner.

We asked Denny to share why he became a financial planner, what he feels is important about the profession, what stood out for him from his college experiences, and what it’s like to run his own business.

What inspired you to become a financial planner?  

Growing up, my mom had a small photography business. This complicated my parent’s financial situation. I remember every year they complained about their tax situation and were not sure what they needed to do to improve tax efficiencies. Like many people, they didn’t have a professional to help them plan their finances and make decisions that could ease their tax burden. Seeing this struggle sparked my interest in finance from a fairly young age. I started learning about basic money management from about the time I was 11 years old, and my interest in the subject continues to this day.

I was also convinced I was going to be a professional football player and wanted to know what to do with all the money I was going to make. I wanted to manage my own finances. However, during my freshman year playing football at Sam Houston State, I realized I was never going to be an offensive lineman in the NFL. But I could still pursue my interest in financial planning, so I transferred to Texas A&M. I had looked into their financial planning track and saw it had the courses I would need to push my education and career in that direction.       

What is the most rewarding thing about financial planning?

Personal finances are one of life’s biggest stressors and are the leading cause of divorce. Because I help people make sound decisions about money, I have the opportunity to make their lives more rewarding by eliminating some financial stress. Most people have no idea what they can or cannot do within their current financial situation, and I help my clients understand how to maximize their wealth and achieve their lifelong goals and dreams. I want to help people, and it is the center of why I do what I do.

I like to I think help empower families to design the life that truly calls to them. I help them identify and achieve their financial goals by helping them develop a financial plan and stick to it. I also help them achieve certain goals, such as ensuring their children can attend college, without jeopardizing other longer-term financial goals. I named my company Legacy Financial Designs because our goal is to help people design a personalized financial plan that helps them secure not only their own financial independence but also build a legacy for the future.   

What was your favorite financial planning class at Texas A&M and why?

My favorite class would have to be Fundamentals of Financial Planning. This class should be a requirement for all students regardless of major. Unfortunately, our public education system does not focus almost any attention on teaching young people about money management or finances, which to me is absurd. Fundamentals of Financial Planning taught me how to apply basic financial, economic and institutional concepts and addressed financial topics like budgeting, credit management, investment strategies, income taxes, risk management and retirement and estate planning.

I learned that financial independence begins with the fundamentals. Without proper cash flow, the ability to build wealth is impossible. Financial independence comes from a steady income, proper budgeting, lowering expenses where possible and paying yourself first. By paying yourself first, I mean putting money aside for savings and investment purposes.

Who was one of your favorite financial planning instructors — and why?  

I honestly feel like Dr. Nathan Harness, an instructional professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics, is the best of the best in the nation when it comes to teaching financial planning. He was a terrific professor, and I now also consider him a friend. He takes the time to know his students and serve as a real mentor. As a student, he helped me realize how the academics of business can be applied in the real world. Honestly, I can say that without his leadership I would not be where I am today.

What is your most memorable experience while attending classes at Texas A&M?

My senior year, myself and two other students worked on a mock financial plan for the National Financial Planning Association. Undergraduate students from across the nation have the opportunity to build a case study and submit it for review by industry professionals, and our plan was accepted. After evaluation, it was identified as one of the top submissions. Those who had the top eight submissions were invited to present at the national conference, which that year was in Boston. Dr. Harness accompanied us to the conference as both a chaperone and mentor.  

How did the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences prepare you for the possibility of owning and managing your own financial planning business?

The classes I took gave me the skills to be a financial planner. Specifically, I remember the entrepreneurship course, which gave me an understanding of what it takes to run my own business. It gave me the big picture of what it’s like to own a business. At Legacy Financial Design, I am 100% responsible for everything. The mix of coursework gave me the skills I needed as well as the knowledge of how to do the research required to find answers for myself as a business owner — and for my clients.  

You are a newlywed, and you and your wife work together in your business. What is that like for you?

Believe it or not, after almost four years of being married and six months working together every day, Jordan and I still feel like newlyweds, so we must be doing something right.

Before we opened our own business, Jordan and I were always working long hours at our respective jobs and were like ships passing in the night. But now we get to work together and see one another all the time. We work well together, so for us it has been a blessing.  

Jordan’s background is in nursing – she is a registered nurse with both emergency and operating room experience — and many of the skills she developed as a nurse translate well into financial planning. First of all, she has always had a passion for helping others improve their quality of life, and now she can do that by helping people achieve financial independence.

As our director of client services, she is also the “face” of the company, and she is usually the first person a client speaks to or sees. She uses her people skills to get to know the clients and understand their needs. Also, she leads all of our marketing efforts and helps with the firm’s creative needs.

I’ve also learned that constantly telling Jo what to do simply does not work, so we have built workflows and processes, which have been a lifesaver. Now the computer tells her what to do – not me. That has really helped keep things running smoothly in the office.

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