“A new client once told me that because of a tight schedule, he had to choose between an appointment with his dentist and his first financial planning session with me,” Deb Kriebel laughs. “He chose the dentist.”
That’s not an unusual attitude for first-time planning clients, who expect the experience to be something like an IRS audit. “It ends up being a lot less painful than they think. Normally, when people come in, they’re overwhelmed by all the details of their financial lives, and have been struggling to do everything themselves. We try to relive the stress and anxiety.”
While financial planning might seem daunting to most people, for Deb, it’s an endlessly fascinating field. “I love talking to people and working with them. Each person is completely different, with his or her own unique dreams and goals and aspirations. It’s like a great big puzzle. You dump the pieces out on the table and bit by bit, you put it together. When you’re done, you end up with this finished picture of how they can live the lives they want to have.”
Deb has always been drawn to numbers, whether in math or science. After growing up on a farm in Unionville, Pennsylvania — the 10th generation in her family to do so — she headed off to Penn State, where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and met her future husband. The succeeding years took them from Virginia to Alaska to Florida, and she transitioned into the corporate world. After receiving her MBA at the University of Florida and working for CSX, they moved to Maryland in 1989, and have been there ever since.
Over time, Deb realized that her chief interests lay outside her corporate work. “I became interested in finance while getting my MBA and working for a professor. He told me that I should become a planner, because I enjoy both finance and people. He was right. The financial area combines both art and science. I grew up on the science side, but the art side is equally fascinating — it’s much more emotional and psychological. Eventually, I went back to school for my CFP®.”
Shortly after moving to Maryland, Deb met Pinnacle CEO John Hill at a local church, and he was impressed with her warm personality and facility with numbers. She joined the firm in 1996 and was made a partner in 2002.
When it comes to the financial planning process, her approach begins with listening. “You glean a lot about the journeys people have taken when you let them tell you their stories. That helps you identify themes in their lives — maybe they want to leave an inheritance for their kids, or give money to a charity. Or maybe they just want to retire and build a log cabin in the mountains and leave the world behind. The process is about more than what a client puts down on paper — that’s the numerical side. When you listen to them carefully, you find out what they really care about and want. As a business professional, I then figure out what I need to do to make sure we can bring that about.”
In Deb’s experience, a successful financial plan does more than simply clarify a client’s cash-flow picture, or his or her retirement ambitions — it can lead to ongoing peace of mind. “Some clients are so worried about their money, that they can’t leave their computers, or smart phones, or CNBC. They reach a point when they realize that it’s time to let someone else handle this, just so they can sleep at night.”
For her own peace of mind, Deb enjoys regular downtime with her family — often, while enjoying some outdoor activity, from kayaking to biking to horseback riding. She also takes every opportunity she can to travel, and has been to China, Japan, Australia, and throughout Europe. “These are the things I like doing — the things that bring me joy,” she says.
And in the end, that’s what matters. “Financial planning is about more than just money — it’s really about lifestyle. Money is a tool, and we shouldn’t let it control us. If your idea of the perfect retirement is sitting on your back porch and reading a book, that really doesn’t cost much money. Most people enjoy the simple things — being with someone they love, or reading a book, or cooking a meal. Ultimately, the planning process is about discovering what makes you happy, and what you need to do to get there.”