Success Spotlight: Dennis Morton
Welcome to our ‘Success Spotlight’ series! We spotlight the incredible work of financial advisors in our community, diving into their personal journeys, professional insights, and passions that fuel them inside and outside their firms. Our aim is to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the people who navigate the complex landscape of wealth management every day. Get ready to meet the real faces behind financial advice and discover what sets them apart.
Introducing Dennis Morton, Founder & Principal at Morton Brown Family Wealth.
- Can you tell us about your background and what led you to become a financial advisor?
I arrived at this profession in a roundabout way. I was a history major in college on an Army ROTC scholarship. While I minored in Business; I did not take any courses on investing. After graduation, I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army and spent the next four years as a PATRIOT missile officer. After serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and leaving the Army as a captain, I took a corporate job and settled in Pennsylvania with my new wife.
I did not enjoy my work in the civilian world, however. I spent several months discerning how to apply critical thinking from my humanities studies along with the leadership skills I learned in the Army. I knew I could communicate clearly and with authority to help others make good decisions. It was one of my strengths that made me successful in the military. I just needed a profession in which those skills would be valued.
At that time in my life, I had been introduced to investing but my experience in working with a financial advisor was product-driven and disappointing. I had the idea that maybe my background had prepared me to be a financial advisor. Someone who takes a consultative approach to a complex field and helps to lead people in their financial journey. I pitched the idea to my very supportive (and very pregnant) wife, and she gave me her full support to change careers. From there I found a job at a Wall Street firm and a career that I love.
- What motivates you in your work and personal life?
I am motivated by my optimism in the face of uncertainty. When I started out as an advisor, I thought the problems I would solve would exclusively be around planning and investing for my clients. What I found instead was that our industry had challenges in the way advice was being delivered to clients. I found that in my optimistic view, there was room to do better. Designing Morton Brown Family Wealth to be the best firm it can be motivates me every day.
That same optimism shows up in my personal life and the commitments our family has made within our community. Years ago, when one of our children needed serious medical care, we needed to leave home to find a children’s hospital that could support us. We take immense pride in our role as advocates and fundraisers for the building of a local children’s hospital, a vital facility that now stands within our community. This hospital ensures that families no longer need to venture far from home, as we once did, in times of medical need. Even in the depths of tragedy, my inclination was to do good work for the betterment of others. I carry this with me when advising clients through life’s challenges.
- Who have been your biggest influences or mentors?
I talk often of the left and right-brained tension that I feel between my analytical mind and my creative mind. I credit my parents for instilling an appreciation for how a mind that is curious about facts and knowledge can also be creative. My father is a life-long learner, and my mother has used painting, cooking, and sewing as artistic outlets. I sometimes tell clients that as the son of an accountant and an art teacher, I will often draw pictures to go along with my numbers. I say it in jest but truthfully, it is a superpower as an advisor to be able to understand the facts of a financial plan or the market and be able to communicate through a picture or a story.
Approach to Advice
- What do you consider your greatest achievement in your career so far?
I am most proud of launching Morton Brown Family Wealth in 2018. Katie Brown and I were clear about our vision to build a community of clients and professionals living purposeful lives through the stewardship of wealth. We also were meticulous in designing the firm in the image of our clients. Our hard work led to 97% client retention at our launch. We have grown from $100 million in assets under management in 2018 to nearly $300 million today.
- Can you share a story where your advice significantly impacted a client’s financial situation?
I remember vividly the Monday in late March of 2020 when the stock market hit its pandemic bottom. I received several calls that day from clients who were typically unflappable but struggling to maintain perspective as the world shut down. I firmly believe that financial advisors must be good leaders. That day, I can count several situations where I led clients through a dark period and helped them to stay the course with their investment plan. In hindsight, the differences between staying the course and abandoning their investment plan could have been catastrophic. We built a great deal of trust through those conversations, and they also gave our team great confidence in our role as a steadying influence in the lives of families we serve.
- How do you use Nitrogen within your firm?
We specialize in the conversations that spouses, couples, and partners have about money. Nitrogen is an integral platform, allowing us to engage everyone involved. Nitrogen is a powerful tool, enabling us to demonstrate our understand of both individuals within a financial partnership. Beyond the analysis of their present portfolio, it empowers us to grasp the distinctive aspects that define each person’s attitude towards risk and reward. In the past, we have surveyed our clients and found that risk is one of the least understood aspects when planning for their financial future. Nitrogen aids in building client confidence in their financial plan, ultimately helping them to stick with it even in challenging times.
- What advice would you give to someone just starting their journey in wealth management?
Become a well-rounded reader and observer. There is a human side to advice that is equally as important as numbers. The more you read about what it means to be a human making decisions, often with high doses of emotion, the more you will understand the people you serve and how you can guide them effectively.
Outside of The Office
- What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I was once simultaneously an Army ROTC cadet and a guitar player in a Grateful Dead cover band. I had the worst haircut in both organizations. I never bridged the skill gap between missile defense and rhythm guitar.
- How do you balance your work demands with your personal life?
This is a very important and timely topic within Morton Brown Family Wealth. Katie and I set a Big, Hairy, Audacious goal for our firm years ago, but added in a qualifier: We did not want to sacrifice quality of life with our families in pursuit of loftier goals. We instituted a plan that after five years of service at the firm, team members would be eligible for a five-week sabbatical to recharge, reconnect, and experience life with those they love.
This year we turned five years old, and I took the plunge first! In June I took my family of six on a month-long tour of Europe during which we visited Germany, Slovenia, and the Italian Alps. I came back with incredible family memories as well as an appreciation for our amazing team who fully supported me and my family while we were away. As I reflect on that time, I think it is important to apply the same intention and energy to personal time that we would to our strategic goals. By doing so, we can better achieve that coveted balance.
- Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work that help you unwind?
In addition to still playing guitar with a few local players from time to time, I have taken up trail running in recent years. Especially during and after the pandemic, I would start at the bottom of a steep hill, usually with a problem on my mind. By the time I reached the top, I had figured a few things out.
- If you weren’t a financial advisor, what alternative career path might you have chosen?
I would have been a college professor and probably teaching history. I am forever grateful to have discovered this path as a financial advisor as I feel I can use the perspective of my background in history to have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. I love this profession (even more than elbow patches).
Learn more about Dennis, and the work he does at Morton Brown Family Wealth at www.mortonbrownfw.com.