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Brent Kessel

The reason I got into this profession

To understand why I founded Abacus, we need to travel back in time almost two decades. I’m 27 years old, and I’m a mortgage broker sitting in a converted apartment building in Santa Monica. One of the loans I’m trying to arrange has just gone down in flames because a bank decided to change its underwriting requirements midstream, and months of my work are wasted. I call my girlfriend, Britta. “Let’s go to India—we’ve been talking about it for two years, and I need to get out of here.”

Flash-forward six weeks. I’m sitting outside the Central Telegraph Office in the sweltering sun of Mysore in southern India. I feel despondent about returning to my life as a broker. I think of the single-family tract development in Lancaster I’m trying to finance, and the apartment buildings in Vegas, and the Super 8 Motel in Kettleman City, and I picture lying on my deathbed with these dilapidated buildings as my life’s legacy.

My life must mean more than this. I’ve been a student of money psychology for years and have just read a book called Money and the Meaning of Life, the study of which feels incredibly intriguing. What career would allow me to help people explore their relationship to money and help them make conscious choices about how to spend, earn, save and give, rather than be driven by unconscious habits or societal expectations? I have no idea.

Upon my return, I set out to interview a variety of people who might help to guide me: investment bankers, the CEO of a major life insurance company, a stockbroker, several therapists, my yoga teacher and two people who call themselves financial planners. All of these interviews compel me to earn the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER designation. Upon passing my CFP Board exams, I decide to send out a postcard announcement inviting people to congratulate me by sending over their tax returns and 401(k) statements for a financial checkup. Within a week, five people have taken me up on the offer, and the first Santa Monica office of Abacus is born.

Outside of work, my passions include

International travel (especially when it involved playing cards with my wife and sons at a café), snowboarding, yoga, watching college football and basketball, and silent meditation retreats.

One goal I’m saving for

The possibility of purchasing a house closer to work and my kids’ school.

The primary way I’m advancing my career knowledge

I’m studying everything I can about impact investing, and especially how to use investment capital to catalyze measurable change on specific issue areas, such as the environment, human rights, educational opportunity for the poor and animal welfare. I’m also studying solution-focused behavior change, a form of counseling that I’m finding helps people build more confidence and momentum as they shift towards their preferred financial future.

One thing I’m doing to help the planet

I’ve been working with a group of programmers to create a way for investors everywhere to easily and quickly express their values to companies they own. This is known as shareholder engagement, but currently, it’s a very clunky, laborious process. My hope is that with 1-3 clicks from an online investment portal, you’ll be able to send emails to people in positions of power within the corporate world about issues you care about.


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