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Meet Brian Zeek of Surf City College Planning in Huntington Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brian Zeek.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I began my career in financial services as an agent for Group and Individual Medical Insurance with Surf City Insurance Services, Inc. Working with individuals and business owners on something as basic as health insurance planning, I realized the impact a bad decision could have on people. I was successful and built up quite a book of clients who trusted me to understand the contracts, understand their needs, and guide them to the best fit for their needs, only using contracts I knew were sound choices.

Interacting with so many different people, I realized how even a very intelligent person could get led to less-than-perfect decisions. People get busy, people are susceptible to marketing campaigns, prospectuses may be given, but were often not clearly understood. In essence, what many people didn’t readily understand about money.

Including not understanding financial products. I always want what is in my client’s best interest. As I expanded my knowledge into full blown financial advising, especially retirement plans, I would run into folks who were closing in on retirement but they had this problem: Children getting ready to go to college.

I was lucky in that I was able to get good training from folks in the business who specialized in this. I set aside time to read up on it, interview people who were already in the industry, and looked at the college planning field and what it could do to help parents accomplish both goals: Put their children thru school and continue to plan for their own, eventual retirement. In 2009, Surf City College Planning became a division of Surf City Financial Group. SCCP contracted with a nationwide online service to help the kids with all their student-specific needs in getting in and choosing the right school. We hired college planners to do workshops and guide students through the online service.

But the online system was not a fit for all students. I found that many kids were not engaging in this service as expected. In 2016, local college planning professional Ashley Snow, partnered with us and joined the Surf City College Planning team. Surf City College Planning is now very one-on-one with the students who choose to work with Ashley, and the parents who work with me. We recently received a plaque for our window from YELP for positive reviews, and more important, we are seeing the fruits of our labor with students entering and completing the school cycle, and parents telling us they are in far better shape now than before we met with them. It’s a pleasure to serve the community and Surf City College Planning takes pride in what we can achieve for our clients: Helping with the financial problems, getting the students through the system, and how to pay for this without wrecking their retirement plans.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest struggle was figuring out what model we wanted to be. Financial only which is far simpler but we needed to really do both. Paying for the wrong school is not achieving the result we want for our children. So full service, meeting the needs of the students one-on-one is more rewarding and actually helps the financial end quite a bit.

Adding the local, personalized student services was the tough part for me because it wasn’t my strength. Finding the right person and how to handle the working with kids and how to market this service. We did get go with an online service that is very large national company that offered online counseling for the kids. It was a fine service and continues to be available but we give our families the choice and 99% of the time they opt for the more personal relationship approach. Similarly, our financial planning service, is a very personalized approach. We enter every situation with a blank slate, we are not a product house, but we strive for money efficiency and successfully “find people the money” so that education can happen for them. We came upon Ashley Snow who was offering the service without dedicated office space of her own and brought her into our established location. We do feel good about where we are at but always look to improve, do more for our families.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Surf City College Planning – what should we know?
Our business model is very education-based. We try to teach people how money works, not just how products work. We start in the areas that are the most impactful.

* How folks fund their qualified plans.
* Pay their mortgages.
* How they handle capital expenditures like cars and of course paying for college.

We also pride ourselves on our independence, We are beholden to no one. Our team of associates have all the financial vehicles and with my planning, we are able to bring them together for a very holistic approach to planning.

We look for money you may be giving away unknowingly and unnecessarily and put back into savings for you. We also feel that eliminating losses can have just as much power as simply chasing returns, and has VERY predictable fine results for people. Why we discuss all types of mortgages, even though we do not do mortgages. Many people have just an “investment advisor” who looks solely at rates of return and attempts to get the client “up the hill” (the accumulation phase). We do not just pay attention to the accumulation phase, In other words getting up the mountain. We think the distribution phase is at least, if not more, important than the accumulation phase. Getting down the mountain. We do work with families and individuals. When we come across a parent who happens to be a small business owner, then we have that many more ways to be effective for them. Since we are a small business we understand what they are dealing with out there. The college planning part of our business is much the same. Efficiency.

One part of that is helping kids get into the best school for them and getting them in position to be accepted. Ashley has an excellent grasp of the admissions process and is a skilled researcher and continues to over & over again prod her students to success. She teaches them how to use the tools, and she tasks them to find their own inner voice and guides them through the process. I have seen students come in 100% sure they wanted to attend a certain university but after working with the student she would know it wasn’t a good fit. It might be the wrong school for the major, or the goal might be graduate school acceptance and they limit the number of undergraduates from their own institution. She has attended school trips, reviewed essays, researched tuition prices.

The financial part is first seeing if we can get them as much free money as possible by lowering the expected family contribution (“EFC”). Then we look at all resources and help them pay for school without ruining retirement.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
To listen. To understand what clients are thinking. Our openness about money and our process. We stay current, we have excellent planning tools and software, and we are all hard workers committed to the cause.

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