Cents & Sensibility

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

A personal finance coach and investment advisor

vermont-wealthTim Carney established his South Burlington independent financial planning firm, Vermont Wealth & Retirement LLC, in 2011.

The fear of doing the wrong thing often causes people to do the wrong thing without even knowing it.”

That’s Tim Carney, the president of Vermont Wealth & Retirement LLC, an independent financial planning firm that provides personal coaching and education focused on retirement readiness. He believes that by empowering people’s knowledge and understanding, he can help them make good decisions.

“There’s a lack of understanding about personal finance,” Carney says. “Where do people get their education about personal finance? Not in college. You pick it up on the street: from an insurance agent that wants to sell you something; from your college buddy who’s a broker and wants to sell you something — a lot of people have a lack of clarity about what to do.”

He certainly has gathered the professional credentials to accomplish his mission. He’s a Certified Financial Planner, insurance broker, and a licensed securities broker. Last year, he earned his Retirement Income Certified Professional designation from the American College.

A native of Corning, New York, and the son of the publisher of a local newspaper owned by his mother’s family, Carney wasn’t sure what direction he wished to pursue when he entered Hampshire College in 1971. He left after a year and headed to Vermont, where he spent the next few years washing dishes, working in construction and property management, and doing heavy labor for a couple of sawmills.

“Then the energy crisis hit in ’73, ’74,” he says, “and I was laid off. The guy who ran the mill was a really nice guy, and said, ‘You don’t belong here. You’ve gotta go back to college.’” Carney took the advice and began his studies at what was then called The University of Vermont College of Engineering, Mathematics and Business Administration.

“It’s been modified now,” he says of the college. “I graduated with a bachelor of science degree, so I studied physics, engineering, chemistry, finance, and accounting. Let me qualify that further,” he adds with a chuckle. “I was the last student to receive that degree, and the only student in my class that earned it. Everybody else had a bachelor’s of physics or engineering. I just had a science degree.”

He was living in Rochester when he began taking night classes at UVM. He moved to East Charlotte for a year and started full-time studies before moving to Burlington.

“In some ways it was a social struggle,” Carney says. “I’d been working for three years, and I was 22, 23, and a sophomore, so my life was different from that of some of the students there. I did get involved with the student association. I was the treasurer, and the guy who was president was Staige Davis. We became lifelong friends.”

Davis is now CEO and president of Four Seasons Sotheby’s International Realty. “He’s neater than I am,” he says with a chuckle, adding that they were also college roommates for about a year on South Union Street. “That bodes well for taking care of other people’s money.

“Tim has done some personal work for me, and has done the company’s 401(k) retirement plan.” He mentions a “mutual blackmail thing” between them: “If I tell a story, he’ll tell a story. One of the stories I would tell is that his voice at the hockey games is so loud, even the refs can hear him — a boisterous fan who didn’t always want to say to the referees what they wanted to hear.”

After graduation in 1978, Carney relocated to Lyme, New Hampshire, where he married his first wife and found work with Creare, an engineering research and development firm in Hanover. “There’s a little nucleus of businesses down there that were set up and run by graduates from the Thayer School of Engineering and Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business,” he says.

“They were doing testing on the safety systems designed for nuclear reactors in the event of a nuclear core probe, like Three Mile Island before it happened. The other end was the responsibility of the guy that hired me: research on radial compressors, and efficiencies of noise abatement, on aircraft engines, turbochargers, vacuum cleaners.”

His marriage dissolved in 1984, and Carney left Creare, he says, “in 1984, ’85” to go into sales. “I got sick and tired of the limits that were being placed on me and the values that others established on my worth in the employment environment.”

He sold energy-conservation contracts to homeowners for a while, and as a result, was introduced to a wholesaler of plumbing and heating supplies in Lebanon, New Hampshire, for whom he worked for about three years. “Then I met Cathie.”

That’s Cathie Goodheart, who became his wife in 1987. She was working at GE and living in Jericho, and Carney found a job for Capital Plumbing & Heating Supply, which is now defunct.

“I was doing outside sales, would drive around the state for three years.,” he says. “I was very successful with that: This was 1987 — boom time. The sales territory I took over was doing $300,000 in sales volume, and 16 months later was doing $1.3 million.

“As a result of my success, my employer told me they were going to hire another salesperson and shrink my territory. I said, ‘Great!’ I drove 50,000 miles a year, and ‘what about my income?’ They said, ‘You’ve just got to sell more.’

“I said, ‘I’m all done with that,’ and am never going to let that happen again.”

He chose the financial services business. It was 1989, he was in his later 30s, and saw the possibility for unlimited opportunity that depended on his relationships with other people.

For the first year, he worked as an exclusive life insurance agent for a couple of companies, and studied, he says, “insurance, securities, so I had a limited securities license and could sell mutual funds, which was sufficient considering what I was doing at the time. I began to work with some pretty sophisticated software that required me to do financial analysis.”

Eventually, he began to understand the interplay among these complex financial activities: “mortgages, other loans, sending your kids to college, savings activities, investment assumptions, and so forth. So I was able to get by.” He confesses that he doesn’t feel like he hit his stride until just recently.

In 1994, he established an independent office and hired Astrid Fernandez, a native of Venezuela, as his assistant. “I call her my associate now. She’s been here for 23 years working with me, has a master’s degree in business from St. Michael’s, and is a U.S. citizen now.”

Carney took every opportunity to gain knowledge: from books, conferences, study groups, wherever he could find it. The professional journey, he says, was and continues to be somewhat informal.

In 2001, John Simson, a financial planner and investment advisor, was looking for a successor. “He was working with Buddy Zais, and then a fellow named Jim Antell came along,” says Carney. He and Antell bought out Simson and operated as Carney Antell until 2011, “when we decided it was time to do something different.”

That “something different” was Vermont Wealth & Retirement. “Since opening this office, I have gone to teach a class regularly called Retirement Planning Today, a six-hour education class — no sales stuff going on here — at several places locally: Vermont Technical College, University of Vermont, and most recently through Burlington Parks, Recreation & Waterfront out at the Robert Miller Community Center on North Avenue.”

He uses a 210-page workbook, published by an organization that offers a licensing arrangement and offered it as a class at 400 colleges and universities around the country.

This approach to his business gains him referrals in the long run. “In our office — and it’s not just myself — we send a lot of people to Tim because he’s really good at what he does,” says Cindy Rouille, Carney’s bookkeeper at MGV Associates for 10 years and an obvious fan. “He’s so nice, he’s hysterical — and is meticulous. We’re very protective,” she adds, “and for us to recommend someone, it means a lot for us.”

Carney is an early riser, up at 5 a.m. to begin his day with prayer and meditation. Then he exercises, either at the gym where he does aerobics and lifts weights or, two days a week, attends yoga classes. By 8:30 he’s in the office preparing for his first appointment, at 9. He greets his last appointment around 4:30 and often doesn’t leave the office till 6:30.

Carney and Goodheart live in Williston, about eight minutes from the office on Kimball Avenue in South Burlington. He enjoys boating and he and Goodheart own a power boat. “But I love to sail,” he says, adding that it’s been a while. “I volunteered at the community sailing center and miss it. We also do hiking, cross-country skiing in the wintertime when you can, and family stuff.”

Brendan, Carney’s son from his first marriage, and his wife have two children, and Goodheart’s sons, Brett and Brennen, have two each, so “family stuff” means visiting with them. “And we travel,” he says. “We have a trip planned for next April to go whitewater rafting down the Grand Canyon. We’ll do the top half of the canyon; we’ve done the lower half.

“I love to tell people that I’m from Vermont, but a lot of the times when I say that, I’m not in Vermont. We’re such a small place, so when I go out, I love to get a perspective, and love to come back here because it’s such a great place.”