Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Q2 2021 issue of Morningstar magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Andrew Miller is comfortable with bucking convention, especially when it comes to the notion that age equates to experience.
The founder and chief executive officer of OLIO Financial Planning, based in Virginia, staffs his firm with advisors in their 20s and 30s. Miller, 38, is the oldest. Bright, young, ambitious financial planners can more than compensate for their lack of experience, Miller says, and they’ll be around for clients for years to come. “If you’re 10 years from retirement, we’re in a position to see you through it,” he says.
This focus on youth is certainly not holding back the firm’s growth; if anything, it’s propelling it. Miller launched OLIO in 2016 and has rapidly expanded his business to nine employees, including four other Certified Financial Planners, with $225 million in assets under management. The firm caters to a wide range of clients in 27 states, from young professionals and entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 executives.
An Engineer Pivots to Financial Services Like many advisors, Miller never thought he would go into financial planning. As a kid growing up in Dublin, Virginia, Miller built cities in the dirt for his Matchbox cars and played baseball. His dad was a general contractor; his mom taught communications to electrical engineers at Virginia Tech in nearby Blacksburg.
The family lived modestly, and Miller learned how to stretch a dollar, tagging along with his parents to thrift stores and outlet malls. He also learned early to manage money. His mom would give him a few dollars each day for lunch and a snack, but Miller would make his own meal and pocket the proceeds. By the end of the week, he had enough saved to buy a cassette or compact disc. “It was more expensive to buy a school lunch than to pack one,” he says.
After graduating from high school, where he learned drafting and how to use design software, Miller applied to a local civil engineering firm to help finance his education at a community college. He called three times to make sure the firm received his application. At the interview, he told the owner, “I promise, you will not regret hiring me.” He got the job. By his early 20s, he was helping project engineers develop a wastewater treatment business and he eventually designed small-scale systems to clean sewage that became a valuable contributor to the firm’s revenue.
While he worked for the firm, a visit from a 401(k) advisor set Miller on a new career path. The advisor suggested he move money from one mutual fund to another, but Miller did his own research. He learned that the fund he owned charged a load for exiting and that the recommended fund did the same on the front end. The advisor would collect both fees, but there was no solid rationale for switching funds.
Miller took an interest in learning what he calls the “good, bad, and ugly” of the financial-services industry. After graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in engineering in 2007, he went back to get a finance degree with a concentration in financial planning while working for a small firm, Joel S. Williams & Associates, in Blacksburg. After graduating in 2009 with his second bachelor’s degree, he moved to the Washington, D.C., area to join D’Orazio & Associates, serving high-net-worth clients.
Flat-Fee Appeal Miller started OLIO in 2016 in part to structure pricing differently from the traditional assets under management model. "I've strived to build a company that only charges fees that are easy to understand—the kind that create wealth, rather than drag." A flat fee is also a structure to which millennials are accustomed, he says.
“As your investments grow, you shouldn’t pay more, since the time involved is nearly the same,” he says. “It allows us to avoid discriminating against those with money, versus those who are just getting started.”
Miller was able to build his book of business quickly through referrals and started hiring CFPs. Christine Damico, Miller’s study partner at Virginia Tech in the 2000s, officially joined in 2017 but had already been instrumental in helping Miller get the firm off the ground. “We spent many nights hashing out ideas, business plans, and how to set this up prior to her joining OLIO,” he says.
They chose the name OLIO because it’s easy to say and doesn’t carry Miller’s name; it’s a brand designed to outlast his own tenure. The capital letters OLIO form the shape of eyes and a nose, a nod to the people-focused approach of the firm. The word olio, meaning hodgepodge, also captures the firm’s aspirations. “Our goal is to bring all the little things and different pieces of someone’s financial life together to form an absolute masterpiece,” Miller says.
A major acquisition helped fuel growth. Miller, strategizing with Damico, bought the book of business of his old boss at Joel S. Williams in 2017, adding $80 million in assets under management and bringing OLIO’s total to $120 million.
A staff of almost all women also sets the firm apart. Among its CFPs, Miller hired Amanda Ansell in 2018; Amy Moore, also a former civil engineer, in 2020; and Grace Rogan, another Virginia Tech grad, in 2020. Vickie Damico, Christine’s mother, runs branding and community advocacy for the firm.
Ramping Up Client Experience With Miller, Ansell and Christine Damico serve as the leads in most client relationships, but Miller wants to fast-track the other advisors. He says the industry does a poor job exposing young financial planners to handling responsibility, leading to attrition of bright people.
By contrast, Miller has created a structure that involves staff as much as possible with clients. Virginia Tech has served as a reservoir of talent; the rigor of financial planning programs appeals to him. “There are so many incredibly brilliant students graduating from financial planning programs across the country that have the book knowledge to make an immediate impact,” Miller says.
Christine Damico, who has taught financial planning at Virginia Tech, handles mentoring, training, and building the team at the firm. That includes the development of OLIO’s residency program, which includes Spencer Werres, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 2019 and is working on getting his CFP designation.
Miller relies on Morningstar for investment research, portfolio reporting, management billing, and risk-analysis modeling. He also uses the firm’s Total Rebalance Expert to best time trades for tax savings and maintain target allocations. For investments, OLIO uses low-cost exchange-traded funds and mutual funds from fund families such as Vanguard and Dimensional Fund Advisors.
Along the way, Miller and his team stress a human touch. For example, Miller helped a widow navigate purchasing a mattress. With another client, he recommended umbrella insurance six months before it was needed. For others on tight budgets, the team teaches how to stretch a dollar. Regardless of clients’ stages of life and levels of wealth, in the end, Miller says, they all want the same thing: “They just want to live a good life without worry.”
Andrew Miller, CFP, founder and chief executive officer, OLIO Financial Planning.
How he caught our eye: Built a firm that emphasizes mentoring and training young advisors to help usher in a new generation of financial planners.
Career path: Obtained his bachelor's degree in engineering from Virginia Tech in 2007, then returned for a bachelor's degree in finance with a concentration in financial planning, graduating in 2009. Worked at two firms before founding OLIO in 2016, in part to be able to train other financial planners and offer clients a fee structure other than the AUM standard in the industry. Now working toward a master's degree in finance at Johns Hopkins University.
Personal: Single with two dogs: a golden retriever and a wirehaired pointing griffon. Before starting OLIO, he gutted and remodeled a house with the help of YouTube videos. Surfs on the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
Favorite Funds: Those from Vanguard and Dimensional Fund Advisors.
Charles Keenan is a freelance financial journalist.