My name is Tony Isola. My message is crystal clear. I am sick and tired of seeing teachers being ripped off in their retirement plans. I have reached my breaking point. This ends today. Right now!
This travesty has largely been ignored by the financial media and grossly under-served by the adviser community
Our mission at Ritholtz Wealth Management is to right this wrong. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant. We are going to light this world up and shake the 403(b) status quo to its core.
Right now you are probably saying to yourself: Who the heck is this guy? The answer is I am someone who has been on a mission for the last ten years; someone who has finally found the right partners to turn a dream into reality
I started my financial career with an internship with Lehman Brothers while I was still in college. This morphed into a four year career of trading foreign currency for a couple of foreign banks. This experience was enough to disillusion any soul with some semblance of a social conscious.
One day someone asked me what I would do if I won the lottery. My reply was: “I would teach American History.” I decided not to wait for this highly unlikely event and quit my job.
I went back to school to get my M.S. in education, vowing never to return to the sordid world of Wall Street. I ended up teaching in a New York City public school that most people would not even want to park their car in front of.
I not only parked, but I went inside. I ended up staying five years and teaching some of the most disadvantaged kids you could ever imagine. These kids taught me more than any college course ever could. I can proudly say these were the most rewarding years of my life.
More importantly, I learned the invaluable lesson that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between how much money you make and your value to society.
I married another disillusioned soul from the financial world, my wife and partner Dina (whom you will meet shortly). I settled into teaching at a prestigious suburban school district on Long Island, while raising twin boys with my wife.
With my background in economics and trading, many teachers came to me for advice on their 403(b) plans. I could not believe what I saw: Salespeople masquerading as advisors, hawking annuity products with up to 10% up-front commissions!
Annuity vendors were prowling the teachers lounge like hungry wolves, selling products with steep surrender charges that could last a decade or more with annual fees of 3 to 4%!
I could not believe these products were even legal. Even worse, some of the finest, most caring human beings I had ever met were being cheated.
I was outraged. I made it my mission to wade through these confusing options to find suitable choices. I decided to pressure my school district, teach financial literacy classes, and help these people in any way that I could.
Along the way, Dina and I realized we could actually make a business out of this. I continued to teach but set up a fee-only R.I.A. firm. I eventually earned my Certified Financial Planner designation and worked two full-time jobs for ten years.
After twenty years of teaching, I made the very difficult decision to leave something I loved to fulfill my second mission in life. Reforming a broken teacher’s retirement system became my new reason to get up every day and go to work.
All along I had followed Barry Ritholtz, Michael Batnick,and Josh Brown (and later Ben Carlson). I can speak truthfully when I say they were my financial mentors though I had never met or spoken with them in person. I recently resent Barry a message from 2010 that turned out to have been prophetic.
One thing led to another and we decided to join forces. The crew at Ritholtz Wealth Management instantly got that the teachers’ market represents a tremendous opportunity for us to bring logic, sanity and fairness to. More importantly, they understand that firms do well by doing good.
Barry and the gang are everything I expected them to be and more. What you read on their sites is exactly who they are. In addition, Kris, Patrick and Erika are some of the smartest and most sincere people I have ever met.
RWM has an unparalleled ability to spread this vital message with an uncompromising mission do the right thing. This is a perfect combination at a time when the investment advisory industry is about to undergo unprecedented changes.
We are going to methodically show the world what is wrong with the 403(b) world. We will always emphasize data and provide solutions. Our goal is not to personalize this issue or demonize people. RWM will provide game changing strategies based on a fiduciary model to help revolutionize a trillion-dollar industry.
But I would urge the entrenched powers that be not to mistake kindness for weakness. We will not let any conflicted organization stand in our way of helping teachers and transforming a system that is long past its expiration date.
I am so excited to be joining the firm. My words are literally jumping off these pages. The days of cheating the trying men and women that teach our children are about to end. The battle has been joined.