Cortlon Cofield has lived an uphill battle, and it taught him lessons that he brings to serving his millenial clients with services they can't get elsewhere.

He grew up in the Avalon Park neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side, and both his parents passed away within two years of each other before he turned 17. But he pushed on, scoring a 27 on the math section of his ACT, which led him to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After earning his master’s in accounting (via a full-ride from the Accountancy Diversity Fellowship), Cofield earned his CPA license and worked at Big Four firm KPMG and Northern Trust Asset Management for approximately four years.

This eventually lead him to founding his own business, Cofield Advisors, which looks to bring financial planning and literacy to millennial clients. Many of Cofield's first clients, he notes on his site, were his fellow co-workers from just a few years back.

“They had no idea what a 401(k) was, and these were people with good jobs in the financial industry,” Cofield wrote on his site. “I figured if they didn’t know these things, there were many others who needed help as well."

"When you tell millennials about their 60-year-old self, they can’t see that yet because they’re fairly young,” he added. “Part of my job is to show them a simple way to plan for their future self and show them they don’t have to sacrifice everything now for them to get there.”

We recently caught up with Cofield to discuss his business, as well as how he approaches his millennial clients.

What made you first want to become an accountant?

I knew I wanted to become an accountant since my Junior year in high school. I had always been good with numbers and I knew I would seek a profession in the accounting or finance industry. After watching my family struggle and lose jobs during the 2008 housing market crash, I searched the unemployment [statistics] for jobs in my field and noticed a remarkable statistic — there was a zero percent unemployment rate for CPAs, even during the housing crash! This solidified my choice to be an accountant because I wanted to pursue a career where my services would always be valued.

What was your inspiration behind creating Cofield Advisors?

My inspiration came from watching my fellow colleagues get turned down for financial planning services because they didn’t meet the six-figure assets-under-management minimum imposed by most wealth management companies. I saw that these people really needed the help but hadn’t had the time to accumulate enough assets because they were fairly young. This prompted me to leave my last firm and launch Cofield Advisors, where I would specialize in working with millennials, helping them save, budget, and invest to ensure a bright financial future.

What are some of the trends you've noticed in your millennial clients? What should other CPAs be paying more attention to?

One of the main trends that I’ve noticed in working with millennials is that most have an entrepreneurial itch. What I mean by that is they want to pursue their own side business ideas or maybe want to launch a business full time in the future. How this is relevant for me is [that] I can’t just give the “work for 40 years and retire financial" plan. I must incorporate their side business as well and offer tax planning services to help them save money on taxes. I love it because it brings more complexity to the table and makes my job more interesting.

How have you found success in helping millennials? And what are some of the strategies you’ve found in making young people financially successful?

One of the biggest reasons that I’ve found success in working with millennials is due to my pricing structure. I understood that millennials are used to paying for services on a monthly basis (phone bill, Netflix, etc.) so I structure my pricing in that same fashion. This gives them immediate comfortability in paying for my services, and more importantly it allows me to teach each client with equal respect, since I’m not charging on an AUM model.

As far as successful strategies on making my clients financial successful, I’ve learned that I have to be extremely creative. It’s hard for a 30-year-old to see their 65-year-old self and start saving for that person, so I have to find creative ways to shift my clients' mindset. That’s why I rarely use the word "retirement" with my clients, I call it financial independence planning. They can relate with the thought of being financially independent at 55 or 60 and never having to work for someone again.

What are your biggest aspirations for the accounting and financial planning professions going forward? What do you hope will change in the profession over the next decade?

My biggest aspirations for the financial planning profession is that everyone will have access to these services. Financial planning is known for only being offered to older, more wealthy individuals and that, to me, is not fair at all. In addition, I would love to see a requirement that all financial advisors/planners need to operate on a fee-only basis. “Fee only” means that advisors can’t accept outside commissions from brokers on insurance companies for selling their products. This would eliminate the major conflict of interest issues that we see daily in our industry. I feel that this would bring more trust and transparency to our profession.

For more on Cofield Advisors, head to its site here.

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