Cleveland Business Connects

For immediate release (October 6, 2017) Media Contact: Judy Abelman Email: Phone: 440.725.8861...

By Amanda Bates   |   Photo by John Goldy

It’s nearly impossible to teach someone empathy, Ed Vargo, the founder of Burning River Advisory Group (BRAG), says.

However, empathy is what has allowed Vargo and his business partner, Melana Carbary, to set themselves apart as financial planners. Their focus – and their forte – is empowering women through the medium of financial planning.

Vargo and Carbary established BRAG in 2010. Vargo had recently stepped out of a management role at a private firm, and Carbary was just getting started in the financial services industry. Both are certified financial planners and chartered life underwriters.

Their initial vision wasn’t to cater to women. However, when Vargo analyzed their clientele, he realized that 75 percent were women-run households.

“It happened organically,” Vargo says. “By the way we approach our business, the conversations we have with clients and our value proposition. We were quite the anomaly.”

The pair is very open about the fact that financial advisors, in general, have not been effective in terms of serving women. It’s largely a male-dominated field, according to Vargo, and men and women tend to think about money very differently. Men think about money in tangibles, he says. They look at investments, numbers, and growth.

In contrast, BRAG’s holistic approach treats investments as just one part of the equation. To get the entire financial picture, they look at a client’s insurance, taxes, estate management, cash flow, and banking, as well as any other elements that might influence their financial picture.

Their Uniquely Yours Wealth Management Process takes clients through getting educated about their finances and financial planning, putting what they’ve learned into place, and making financial planning a lifelong, rewarding practice.

Many of BRAG’s clients are women experiencing a significant life event, such as retirement or divorce. The emotional element often adds another layer of complexity to an already complex process.

BRAG has also brought the nationwide workshop series Second Saturdays to Cleveland. These half-day events which help women navigate divorce are held once a month at the Tri-C Westshore Campus in Westlake. Attendees hear from professions in the legal, financial and mental health fields address the complex issues that often accompany divorce.

“There’s a whole personality side, a subtle side, that we see,” Carbary says. “At the end of the day, they are human, we are human, and we really feel those personal connections.”

Part of Vargo’s impetus stems from personal experience. His mother, a Korean immigrant, was stuck in an unhealthy relationship for much longer than she might have been if she were economically mobile.

Now, with five daughters of his own, Vargo’s goal is to educate women and put them in the position to take financial ownership. Having Carbary, a well-educated, financially savvy woman, on the BRAG team helps break through barriers, too.

“Being a male/female team gives us a leg up,” Carbary says. “There are times that a female client will call or email me because there are things they aren’t comfortable sharing with Ed. We can offer a little bit of both, in terms of what women have going on in their lives.”

They also understand that simply the idea behind “financial advising” can be intimidating to women. Worries about being judged, or being embarrassed about a lack of financial knowledge, often stop them from picking up the phone, Vargo says.

“Once we get them on the phone, they let down the barriers,” Carbary says.

Their commitment to putting clients at ease extends to their office space, which looks more like a warm, inviting living room than a headquarters of a financial advising firm.

BRAG also hosts a holiday party, which allows them to celebrate their clients’ successes with them. At last year’s party, the BRAG staff and their clients enjoyed a live band, Creole-inspired food, and a video presentation full of clients’ memorable moments.

“I always refer to the ‘BRAG family,’ and while it may seem clichéd or hokey, it is nonetheless true,” Vargo says. “We very much view our clients as one large family.” 

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