Jennifer Luzzatto, Founder and President of Summit Financial Partners, headquartered in Richmond, Virginia, has over thirty years of experience in the financial services arena. Author of Inheriting Chaos with Compassion, inspired by her own experience after losing her husband of almost 26 years to leukemia, Jennifer delivers uniquely empathetic insights to those navigating the tangled financial legacy a loved one may have left behind. She believes family comes first, every client deserves her very best, and there is no greater honor than walking alongside someone through their most challenging season.
Where did the idea for Summit Financial Partners come from?
I’ve always loved the idea of being my own boss, so building my own company was always percolating as a future possibility in the back of my mind. I love having my hands in everything. I’m inquisitive, so weaving together what works and building solutions on the go fuels my natural inclinations for exploration, discovery, and problem-solving. I’m an avid fan of puzzles, and entrepreneurship is a never-ending, constantly evolving puzzle. You must always have the big picture in your mind while also drilling down to the corners, edges, and details of the tiny pieces that make the whole operation possible.
Transparently, I dropped into the financial services arena by accident! Early exposure through a random temp agency led to a budding career, which later blossomed into my firm, far surpassing my initial expectations. I’ve built my success by carefully watching others and learning as I go, mirroring what works and avoiding what doesn’t. As I became proficient in my field, I knew I had what it took to build something of my own. When it came time to take the leap, I knew Luzzatto Financial Planning would not roll off the tongue, so I went for something more memorable. At Summit, we’re committed to helping others reach the pinnacle of their financial goals, so their legacy lives from their mountaintop!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
As a single parent, I have to be incredibly focused on my work during business hours, so I can switch gears and give my family the full attention they deserve. My family suffers if work comes home with me at the end of the day, so on-the-job productivity is paramount to my success and their wellness. My best days begin the night before. As I’m rounding out the evening, I’ll take a few moments to pre-plan activities and determine which tasks must be prioritized the following day. I rise early to tackle the personal stuff – workout, home organized, to-dos knocked out – to further my capacity to really unplug and relax when I get home later. I hit the ground running and make every moment count, so downtime is carefree and restorative.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I have a bit of a squirrel mentality at times. Shiny objects can sometimes excite and distract me from what’s really important. I’ve intentionally implemented a protocol for new ideas that guards my time and productivity, so I don’t find myself running down rabbit holes. We utilize project management tools to capture ideas as they come and set aside time for future review as a team. When that time arrives, we carefully review together to explore the potential impact, any redundancies, alignment with the mission, etc. From there, we determine which ideas have merit and should shift into production and which were great ideas then but won’t serve us well in the long run. It’s a filtering system that makes space for growth while also protecting our core values and strategic plan.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The latest technological trends allow us to integrate planning tools that more effectively consider all facets of financial planning. Our workflows are more structured and vastly improved when we evaluate and apply our strategies to as many aspects of a client’s financial life as possible. Our lives are incredibly complex. Every decision intertwines with and impacts other corners of our present and future plans. New technology is changing the landscape of our industry in exciting, powerful ways.
We also utilize life planning tools to lean into the psychology of money. These tools allow us to draw out people’s preferences and habits more effectively to get granular on their goals and dreams. Articulating your vision for your future can be challenging for some, and it goes far beyond saying, “I want a lot of money.” We’re asking the questions that matter to build better plans that are uniquely designed to consider each client’s personal definition of success.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I have a particular internal process that prioritizes my work. My first commitment is always to my clients. They come first. I’m also a big fan of the “eat the frog” approach that challenges you to be accountable to those tasks you hate most by knocking them out early in the day. For me, that’s making phone calls. It goes on the list as I pre-plan my day, time is proactively set aside to get it done, and I do it. If I allow my least favorite tasks to float aimlessly, looking for random pockets of time, they’ll never get done.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell her, “Be brave! Be confident!” As I look back on my younger self, I see a girl who let so much happen TO her instead of someone who made things happen FOR her. At any age, but particularly when we’re young and naive, we get caught up in our self-perceptions. We’re often colored by our insecurities, lacking the understanding and perspective of others who see us as competent and able. Gosh, my younger self would have never asked for a raise! I’d also tell my younger self to seek feedback and often. The obvious benefit is self-improvement and personal growth. The additional benefit is beating the false narrative and imposter syndrome running in your head. Fight back against that nasty internal voice!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The barriers for women are not as rock-solid or thick as we often think they are, particularly in the financial services arena. Yes, there are formidable challenges, but our progress as women may sometimes be self-imposed at a slower pace than it needs to be. There are a lot of opportunities in this industry for women. Public opinion about women in finance is often filtered through the lens of Wall Street, but most people in our industry don’t work in that arena. When you look beyond the obvious, this industry is ripe for women to be present, impactful, and dominant.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Learn, learn, and learn some more. I’ve attended the Global Leadership Summit every year for over a decade. Carving out and protecting space for me to hear new ideas, explore emerging trends, and discover areas prime for self-improvement allows me to be a better leader and business owner. I’ll never know it all. As long as I stay humble and curious, my future is bright!
Always step back from your current conversation to consider the big picture. We can easily get caught up in a discussion and stop asking essential questions. Why are we doing this? What is our purpose? Does this really add value to what we’re doing? What will we accomplish here? I’ve honed this habit over the years, which has always served me well.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We work hard to intentionally cultivate sticky relationships. We spend a significant amount of time getting to know our clients so we can translate that knowledge into unique, custom, remarkable financial plans that truly reflect who they are and how they want to live. We even go one step further to focus specifically on their legacy. We build relationships with the family – kids, grandkids, close friends – so we can serve our clients and the people most loved by them. Investing time in relationships always pays off in the end. Our commitment to knowing our clients well has fueled those relationships’ longevity and sustainability and driven organic referrals.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I started with the wrong business model, struggling as an hourly planner. My background in money management was at odds with the general planning approach, which often resulted in clients never implementing my strategic recommendations and therefore becoming frustrated by the perceived lack of return on their investment in my services. The business wasn’t sustainable in this form, but my lack of confidence kept me trapped for far longer than I should have been, and as a result, I starved much longer as a new business owner than necessary. In hindsight, I see how my self-doubt slowed my journey to success. I don’t regret that season because I learned a lot, and it served its purpose. Hopefully, someone reading this now will be challenged not to make my mistakes. Make a move!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Don’t laugh, but the person who creates a decent way to store flip-flops back to back will have a lifetime customer in me. I have more flip-flops than I care to admit, and even though I store them in a basket, they still find ways to separate, and I’m constantly digging around to match them up. I’ve resorted to linking them with carabiners because I haven’t found a decent solution. Someone, please change my life for the better and invent the ultimate flip-flop storage solution!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
The best $100 I have recently spent was on Vitamin C Ferulic Serum for my face. There are so many skin care products out there, it is really impossible to know what is best for your own skin and what will really help it. I started working with a Master Esthetician after a friend highly recommended her. She is slowly developing my skin care routine, adding products in slow succession to give my skin time to adjust to each product before adding anything new. I would say the most effective product we have added so far is the Vitamin C Ferulic Serum!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Our go-to project management tool is Monday.com. We are also big fans of Redtail Technology, a cloud-based CRM platform for financial advisors. In tandem, these tools ensure no client falls through the cracks and that our systems and processes are solidly managed. They are the backbone of our workflow and client care, and we rely on each tool to fuel our productivity.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I am a self-professed, proud book nerd. I’m old school – visiting the library to check out a book is still one of my favorite pastimes. I couldn’t narrow it down to only one – There are just too many great reads out there! Here are three of my favorite authors:
Jim Collins: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t and How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In are both insightful reads that challenge leaders to level up in business and team development, exploring real-world examples of thriving and failed companies.
Patrick Lencioni: I stayed up until 2 AM reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I was captivated by the research and psychological viewpoint. Amazing book.
Susan Cain: As an introvert, I felt seen and understood as I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. She does a great job recognizing the innate value of diversity in team personalities and traits and how to better apply them for individual and collective success.
What is your favorite quote?
“I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” – Albert Einstein
This quote always hits home for me. I am deeply curious – sometimes to the annoyance of friends and family as they are peppered with my many questions. I believe my curiosity sets me apart in my industry. I am willing to probe and explore to be sure I have the most and best information available to make strategic recommendations that are in my clients’ absolute best and most complete interests.
- Read, read, read. Learn, learn, learn. We have access to data and research that can hugely benefit how we approach our business, leadership, teams, and clients. When we lose touch with trending information and new developments, we get stuck in old patterns that may no longer be serving us. Stay engaged and use what you’re reading and learning to make critical changes that adjust your business to keep up with the times. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
- Always take time to look back and consider how far you’ve come. Especially as we continue to navigate a global pandemic and many socio-economic challenges – business owners have experienced more change, more unknowns, and more stress than we have at any other known point in our history. Celebrate sustainability, acknowledge growth, and give yourself (and your team!) a moment to go, “Wow, we did that. We’re still here.”
- Build the business that is right for you. Build what lights you up in a way that will work for you, your family, and your community. Don’t succumb to the pressure of negative self-talk or society’s perception of what should be, and build your own dream. Be you.
- People first and always. Build the relationship, and the rest will follow.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.