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Phillip Christenson, CFA

Hi, I'm Phillip and welcome to my website, a website about me. I built it for clients, professional contacts, and prospective clients who want to get to know me a little better. 

I was born and raised in a small suburb of the Twin Cities, Osseo Minnesota. I am fortunate to have amazing parents who value education and a strong work ethic. 

Here's my story.

Selling Gum and 4,000 Quarters Saved

I'm not exactly sure where I received my acuity for thrift, savings, and investing but I know I learned it at a very young age. My parents own a local bar/restaurant. It's been in Osseo forever and still is. This is where I learned about money and hard work. It's a family business which means that not only is it owned by the family, it's also run by the family. I started working there at a very young age, around ten years old. I would get $5 to clean, scrub floors, and haul supply boxes. I had a great time working there because I got to hang out with my father and hey $5 was a lot of money! For some reason I started saving all my money in quarters. I even traded in birthday money for more quarters. I think I liked to see the physical pile of coins rather than compact paper bills. Thinking back, maybe I was influenced by DuckTails where Scrooge McDuck would dive into his vault of gold coins and swim a perfect backstroke. Anyways I was able to save over a $1,000 which amounted to over 4,000 quarters. I felt like I was the richest kid in the world. I had my own mini coin-swimming pool. My friends didn't believe me until they saw the pile for themselves.

The other entrepreneurial benefit I found from having parents that own a bar is that I always had access to gum, mints, and other little candies that my parents sold. My parents would let me take these things for free after I was done working. Well, I ate my fair share but then I also had the great idea that I could sell them to my friends at school and make money. I found that gum was the easiest to sell because each piece had its own individual wrapper. I would get $0.10/piece. With no overhead I was profitable from day 1.  One of the friends I would try to sell my gum to was Jim Sexton. The same Jim Sexton that would eventually become my business partner and the "James" of Phillip James Financial.

My First Trade and Meeting My Eventual Business Partner

My pursuits of trying to make money inevitably led me to the stock market. I was amazed at how you could so easily (or so I thought at the time) make money with very little work. You could basically double your money in a few days just by picking the right stocks. I started reading everything I could on the subject. Warren Buffett and Benjamin Graham became my personal heroes. Now it was time to make some serious money. It was freshman year of high school when I finally got the nerve to start trading. I opened an IRA account with an online broker and made my first trade. It was a tiny little Minnesota based company called Broadview Media. I can't even remember what kind of research I did but that didn't matter I was going to buy it, sell it, and make a lot of money! I purchased $2,000 worth of the stock. The next couple days it went down. Not a lot but it went down enough where I panicked. I sold it after only a few days and lost about $20. It was my first lesson in behavioral finance - don't let emotions drive your investment decisions. Despite the small loss, I was hooked to the allure of the markets. In my spare time I researched stocks and investing. I would even go to the school library on my lunch break to get online stock quotes (smart phones weren't around yet).

By now, I had worked my way up at the bar from scrubbing floors to being a short-order cook. The best part about it was that I was able to get my friends to work there with me, one of them being  Jim. During the slow times when we weren't cooking we would go through the business section of the newspaper and look for penny stocks. We never found any big winners, but I found another stock market nerd that I could discuss stocks and investing with, a rare find in high school.

My First Business and Job

I went to college at the University of Saint Thomas with a major in both Finance and Accounting. Everything was going great until I tried to get a job. I wanted a job in finance. I wanted a Wall Street job. These were very hard to come by and even harder if you have no previous experience. Unwilling to compromise, but no resume to speak of, I decided to create my own experience. I started my first business, Christenson Capital Management. It was set up as an investment partnership and registered with the state of MN. I even printed business cards, purchased accounting software, and designed account statements. It worked great, not only was I making money from investing (and making other people money), but I could now go to future employers and have proof of real investing experience. My next interview landed me a job at a small boutique investment banking firm in downtown Minneapolis. I went on to get my CFA Charter and a few other jobs in finance before I found my real calling.

My Almost Career as a Financial Advisor

I have always enjoyed working with investments and the markets but I knew I wasn't meant to sit at a desk all day crunching numbers. This realization lead me to explore a career as a Financial Advisor. This seemed like a perfect combination. It would allow me to pursue my interest in investments and provide me with a higher purpose, helping people with their own investments and achieving their financial goals. Of all my jobs up to this point, running my investment partnership was by far the most rewarding because I was interacting with and helping people. I thought being a financial advisor would be the same thing; I was wrong.

The company I looked into was Edward Jones, one of the biggest and most well-known financial planning companies in the world. It's a long interview (recruitment) process involving a series of phone interviews, door-to-door selling, and finally an in-person meeting with a current Edward Jones financial advisor. Part way through the process I started to get a feel for how Edward Jones operated but it was during this final in-person interview where I realized that I could never be an Edward Jones Advisor or even a financial advisor for that matter. The interview, was more like a discussion. The Edward Jones advisor gave me his background and why Edward Jones is such a great place to work. He mentioned bonuses and trips that he would be awarded if he met his sales goals. He was generally happy to be with the company. Then it was my turn to ask questions. I went through the usual questions, tell me about a typical day, what is the best thing about your job, etc. Then I started asking about investments. I would ask questions about how they analyze their potential investments and make recommendations to their clients. It was at this point I started to realize that this guy who looked like he had been in the business for 20+ years knew very little about investments, economics, or the markets at all. He did, however, know a lot about sales. He avoided many of my questions or changed the subject. He seemed to look uneasy. But what really got me is when I asked him about selling loaded mutual funds. (Note: Loaded Funds are mutual funds that have a large commission (load) attached to it. So when you either buy or sell it you, the investor, has to pay a large % of their investment sometimes up to 5.75%). I asked if I was able to sell other no-load funds because I would never buy loaded funds myself. It was and still is my belief that no one should ever have to pay these type of fees when investing because there are alternatives without these large fees that are just as good if not better. This is when I realized that Financial Advisors were really just well-dressed salesmen. Instead of selling tangible products they sold financial products. Not only that, they are products that I would never purchase myself. Needless to say, that ended any chance of me working for Edward Jones and unfortunately skewed my perception of the entire financial planning industry. If this is really how it worked then this wasn't the career for me.

The Epiphany

Phillip Christenson Family Picture

Several years after my "Edward Jones" experience I had an opportunity to revisit the financial planning industry. As it turns out (Thankfully!) not every financial advisory company operates the same way. This job was at a small private wealth management company in Saint Paul. They used a model called "Fee-Only" financial planning. What this means is that they didn't sell the commission loaded products that had turned me off to the entire industry years prior. Instead they provided comprehensive planning and their fees were based on the advice they gave. This aligned the interests of the clients with those of the financial advisor. The veil was lifted, my eyes were opened. I could now recommend the investments that I owned in my own portfolio. I could give financial advice without the conflict of interest created by product sales and commissions. I knew right away that this was the right way to do financial planning and that's the way I wanted to do it. I started planning to go off on my own.

Where I'm at Now

Growing up with a family business I knew I wouldn't be satisfied working for someone else. I needed to be my own boss and feel like I had a higher purpose. That's where Phillip James Financial comes in. I founded the company with my longtime friend Jim Sexton (That's where the "Phillip James" comes from, get it?). Our goal is to help people reach their financial goals with a thorough understanding of their personal situation and without pushy product sales. Since going into business we have grown quickly through hard work and a little luck. One of my mentor's used to say, "Be like honey and the bears will come." He meant that there is no secret to success in business. Just do an exceptional job and people will naturally be attracted to you and want to do business with you. That is what we are doing at Phillip James. 

Currently, I am living in Maple Grove with my beautiful wife and daughter. I am doing what I love, helping people with their personal finances. Feel free to reach out and say hi.

Now Read What It's Like to Work with Me.