Clay Budach, CFP®

Clay is a Wealth Management Advisor for Custom Wealth Planners. Clay enjoys writing on topics of retirement planning, taxes, and industry related news. Learn more about Clay here.

My Story

To understand why it’s so rewarding to have finally arrived as our own independent wealth management firm you need to understand my story.

Early Career Development

My path to becoming a financial planner was always deliberate, though it began in an unexpected field. In high school, I was intrigued by the wind turbine industry, largely due to Estherville, Iowa’s renowned program at Iowa Lakes Community College—one of the best in the US. This early interest led me to a job shadow opportunity where I climbed a turbine on a foggy, early spring day. After a strenuous climb, we reached the top—what one worker termed “the office for the day.” The view was both breathtaking and slightly terrifying. The physical aftermath of that day made me reconsider my career path.

During this time, I was also managing a lawn care & landscape company. With some savings from that venture, I visited a local financial advisor’s office to talk shop. The financial advisor there was impressively successful and remarkably generous with his time, considering my modest investment. His insights into growing wealth and the sacrifices required for long-term gratification deeply resonated with me. I was particularly captivated by how impactful a financial advisor could be on individual lives and the community at large. This realization aligned perfectly with my vision of what financial advising should be—guiding people on how to manage and invest their money effectively. This experience firmly set me on the career path of financial planning.

College Study

Convinced that becoming a financial advisor was my calling, I began to explore finance programs within the state. My visit to the University of Northern Iowa was a pivotal moment—I discovered they offered a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) program. The financial services industry is vast and varied, with standards differing significantly across companies and regulations at both state and federal levels. However, the CFP designation stood out as the gold standard, representing a level of competence akin to a lawyer passing the Bar exam or an accountant becoming a CPA. 

Unlike the relatively low barriers to entry in the financial services field, where passing a few basic exams suffices for one to sell, obtaining a CFP designation requires rigorous coursework and a comprehensive examination that covers all aspects of financial planning. CFP candidates must also complete between 4,000 and 6,000 hours of practical training before earning their certification.

I graduated from UNI with a Bachelor of Finance, focusing on personal wealth management, and was ready to sit for my CFP exam. While studying at the University of Northern Iowa, I interned for three years at one of the country’s largest life insurance broker-dealers. This experience provided me with a robust understanding of the industry and honed my skills in integrating risk management products into comprehensive financial planning strategies.

Internship experience

My internship experience opened my eyes to the stark realities of the financial advising industry, particularly the lack of entry-level roles for aspiring financial planners who wish to avoid becoming insurance or mutual fund salespeople. Many positions marketed as “financial advisor” or “financial planner” are primarily focused on selling insurance products, often under a compensation model driven by commissions. This model inherently creates conflicts of interest, as advisors are incentivized to prioritize selling products rather than providing comprehensive financial advice.

For three years, I threw myself into this model, convinced that it was the path to success in the industry. However, I soon realized that this approach was fundamentally flawed. Despite my efforts, I felt deeply uncomfortable with the relentless pressure to pursue insurance sales and the neglect of other areas of financial planning.

It became clear to me that this path was unsustainable. I knew I had the potential to be a financial advisor, but I couldn’t continue to ignore the glaring issues in the industry. The relentless pressure to seek insurance sales over comprehensive financial planning left me feeling disillusioned. I knew I needed to seek out real experience in financial planning, rather than continuing to play the role of a salesperson dressed up as an advisor.

Transition to Financial Planning Roles

I began my journey in the financial planning field at a private wealth management practice affiliated with a large investment broker-dealer. Initially, I worked in the back office, creating and updating financial plans for a team of three advisors who primarily served retirees. After just four months, I was approached by another private wealth management practice associated with my previous broker-dealer. This practice boasted nearly a billion dollars in assets under management, serving hundreds of families.

The business had evolved over 30 years, originally centered around life insurance sales but had expanded into full-service wealth management. With a large team encompassing administration, operations, and advisors, the practice offered an ideal environment for learning.

My role began as a jack-of-all-trades as the practice continued to grow. Over time, I transitioned into a client-facing role, assisting clients with their needs while also managing the financial planning processes behind the scenes. It was an incredible opportunity to tackle a wide range of financial planning issues faced by retirees and those approaching retirement.

This experience was invaluable, providing exposure to various aspects of the profession. It ultimately allowed me to develop essential skills and knowledge in financial planning. It was pure luck that I was able to transition to a fee-only independent model as soon as I did. 

Better lucky than good?

Absolutely, better lucky than good sometimes! In my case, luck played a significant role when Travis Allen, a partner at the firm, became a pivotal figure in my career journey. While my introduction to Travis was by chance, his expertise and dedication to the craft were anything but coincidental. Over the past seven years, Travis had immersed himself in mastering retirement, tax, and financial planning intricacies. Through daily conversations over the next three years, it became evident that Travis was the driving force behind the firm’s financial planning and investment management decisions. Servicing nearly 200 advisory relationships and spearheading new client plan implementations, Travis’s leadership and mentorship were unparalleled. Thus, when Travis announced his departure from the prior firm, it was a no-brainer for me to follow my mentor and financial planner extraordinaire.

Jump to Independence

There are many reasons some advisors may choose to go independent. Some wish to leave the corporate bureaucracy. Others do not feel they have the potential to grow in the way they want, compliance is a heavy restricter of what you could and couldn’t do. Sometimes the firm’s platforms literally just aren’t built to offer services the advisor wishes to provide. Above all else, there is one reason any advisor who has gone independent cites: putting their client’s interest ahead of their own because they felt they were formally constrained. 

Our prior affiliation with a life insurance broker-dealer introduced significant conflicts of interest in our client engagements. Despite our commitment to integrity, we faced limitations in maintaining a consistent fiduciary standard. While we operated as fiduciaries in certain capacities—owing fiduciary status to clients through our advisory relationship and CFP designation—this status could be compromised when discussing products tied to commissions. Once the conversation shifted to commission-based products, we transitioned to a lower standard of suitability, without explicit disclosure to the client. This lack of transparency meant clients were unaware of the shift from fiduciary duty to a suitability standard, potentially undermining their trust in our recommendations. Furthermore, there were strong incentives from the top down to promote product integration, highlighting how compensation structures can influence recommendations. While individuals may have good intentions and strive to act with integrity, it’s essential to recognize the impact of compensation on decision-making processes.

At first, it was a little intimidating no platform to plug into, no big name backing us, and no clients to service. We spent hours upon hours doing due diligence on technology, talking about client experience, and building out those ideas. But sure enough, clients started to come, first one, then another, and another. It was a testament to the relationships Travis and I built with former clients and a reinforcement of our vision for brand-new clients. As we continue to gain momentum and expand, our commitment remains steadfast: providing white glove service and objective financial advice.

Custom Wealth Difference

We desired to build an exceptional firm that served clients at the highest level in a less conflicted model. If you walk outside and throw a straw chances are you will hit someone that calls themself a financial advisor. Six key things made us different than any other local wealth management shop

Fee-Only & Fiduciary 

As an independent Fee-Only financial planning and asset management firm, we work solely for you, our client, without any ties to banks, brokers, or insurance companies. Our transparent fee model means that we do not accept commissions or kickbacks. We always act as fiduciaries and are bound by law and ethics to prioritize your needs above all else. 

Independent Boutique Firm

Real personal service cannot be scaled; that’s why we cap the number of relationships each advisor maintains. As a boutique firm, we dedicate more time to listening intently, building deeper relationships, and delivering truly personalized advice. We continue to welcome new clients as we thoughtfully expand our capacity, ensuring that our commitment to personalized service remains uncompromised.

CFP Professionals

Our team of Certified Financial Planners seamlessly integrates top-tier planning expertise with institutional investment principles, building superior outcomes for our clients.


Our expertise in retirement and income distribution planning empowers clients to confidently manage life’s transitions. Travis and I are both also retirement income certified professionals with a specialization in tax planning.


We are structured to support multiple generations of our clients and their families. A common challenge in the industry is the age of legacy advisors and their frequent lack of effective succession planning. Travis and I bring a robust framework designed to serve our clients and their families for the next 40 years, ensuring continuity and stability in the relationships. 

No Sales Tactics, No Product Pushing 

We are committed to helping clients make informed decisions through transparent and objective advice. While much of the industry still focuses on the manufacturing and distribution of financial products, often accompanied by salesmanship and complex jargon, we stand apart. Our approach is straightforward and sincere. Our priority is to foster long-term relationships built on trust.

Key Elements We Had To Get Right

Client Service

Client service is the foundation of a professional relationship. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in this area. Many ongoing advisory clients receive only one meeting per year to stay in compliance, which leaves many financial planning areas unaddressed. When an advisor applies this one-meeting approach across a large client base, it results in poor service and weak relationships.

At CWP, we take a different approach. We believe good client service involves being available, proactive, objective, and communicative. That’s why we do quarterly check-ins for outstanding client tasks and offer unlimited access to our calendar. We also promise at least two advisory reviews throughout the year, with one focused solely on tax planning.


Choosing the right custodian is crucial for an independent RIA. The custodian is the financial entity that holds and secures client funds and securities, acting as a safeguard between the assets and any other parties. They facilitate trades, handle recordkeeping, and provide technology for clients to access their accounts.

We have chosen to custody client assets with Charles Schwab, the largest RIA custodian, with $9.12 trillion in assets under custody as of March 2024. Schwab’s size, reputation, and platform make it an obvious choice, especially since they do not charge our clients a platform fee. By partnering with Schwab, we leverage their technology, security, and scalability to better serve our clients.


Creating a workplace culture that we are excited to show up to every day has always been a central focus. A professional services team with high turnover and a toxic environment is detrimental not only to the employees but also to the clients they serve. Even with just the two of us, it was crucial to define our core values and live by them every day. Our company culture needed to go beyond superficial perks like free snacks and casual Fridays. Instead, it had to be built on a shared set of beliefs and values that would guide us as we grow the business.

Core Values





Honesty & Integrity

Honesty and integrity are vital for building trust and strong relationships in personal and professional settings. Honesty means being truthful in one’s words and transparent in actions. Integrity is following a strong moral code and principles. Together they create a foundation of trust and mutual respect in relationships. 

Service & Impact

Service is about providing a meaningful experience to the relationships we serve and the people we support. This commitment extends to our clients and our team, fostering a positive and collaborative environment where everyone can thrive. Impact reflects the significance of the work we do. By leveraging our exceptional capabilities, we help clients create greater opportunities for themselves, allowing them to transcend their notion of what is possible. Our dedication to service and impact enhances our clients’ lives and strengthens our communities, reflecting the true value of our efforts.

Wrapping Up: My Journey to Independence

Transitioning to independence has been a challenging yet immensely rewarding journey. From starting out in the industry to learning the ropes of financial planning and seeing the conflicts of interest inherent in traditional models, every step has been a learning experience. The decision to go independent was driven by a commitment to provide objective, client-first advice.

Building our firm from the ground up with Travis has allowed us to focus on what truly matters: integrity, honesty, service, and impact. We’ve created a culture where both clients and team members are valued, and where our work makes a significant difference in people’s lives.

Our independence means we can offer transparent, objective advice, free from the constraints of legacy models. It allows us to build deeper relationships with our clients and help them achieve more.

As we continue to grow and evolve, our commitment remains the same: to provide exceptional service and make a meaningful impact. We look forward to many more years of helping our clients navigate their financial futures with confidence and trust.

Thank you for being a part of our journey.

Welcome to Custom Wealth Planning’s blog where founders Travis & Clay share their thoughts on topics that cover financial planning, investment management, and tax planning. 

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