After 20 hard-charging years in banking and portfolio management, Todd Sensing realized something was missing. So he changed careers and became a financial planner.
Sensing, 45, launched FamilyVest, his financial advisory firm, in 2016. Focusing on family finances made business sense, but his deeper motivation hit closer to home.
Raising two sons on the autism spectrum led Sensing to appreciate the challenges that families with special needs face. Aside from long-range financial planning, they confront social, psychological and practical difficulties just getting through each day.
“Your kids look normal but they don’t act normal,” Sensing said. “That can create a lot of anxiety about going out in public.”
Sensing’s sons were born in 2001 and 2003. They were diagnosed at a young age, and Sensing initially maintained his self-described “Type A investment manager” personality. He even started and ran a hedge fund in 2007 called the Aardvark Market Neutral Fund.
Once his sons reached their teen years, Sensing wrestled with the mounting dissatisfaction of his working life. He wanted to apply his experience and knowledge as a parent with special needs children to help others in a similar situation.
“When you’re raising kids with autism, even thinking about long-term financial planning is tough,” said Sensing, a certified financial planner in Miramar Beach, Fla. “You’ve got a full plate. There’s lots of room for error.”
When he was a number-crunching asset manager, Sensing mastered financial instruments but admits that he had little use for “the softer side like communication and empathy.” His perspective changed as his young sons struggled and he developed patience and listening skills, “since planning for a child with special needs isn’t just about numbers.”
As a guest on the “Your Money” radio show hosted by Kent Smetters, Sensing fielded a call from a father who was raising children on the autism spectrum. Sensing suggested financial tools such as ABLE accounts (tax-advantaged savings accounts for families with disabilities) and shared other tax strategies.
“I started to sense what I was saying wasn’t aligned with what the caller was asking,” Sensing recalled. “He was speaking as a stressed parent worried about what was going to happen to his child after he was gone. He didn’t want to know about possible tax savings because that’s not where he was yet.”
Reflecting on the call, Sensing wishes he had said, “You’re not alone. There are ways to solve the problems you face, protect your children’s future and help them achieve the goals and dreams you have for them.”
Upon launching his advisory firm, Sensing set out to understand each client’s plight. From experience, he knew that parents with special-needs children benefit by confiding in attentive, caring experts who listen intently rather than rush to dish out advice.
“I used to jump to a conclusion instead of listening with a clean slate,” he said. “You want to show off your technical expertise. But now I’m more focused on helping people move forward by understanding them first and speaking their language.”
That’s particularly important when he meets parents dealing with autism at home. He knows it’s tempting to become a recluse because of the social anxiety that can arise when the family dines out or shops at the mall.
During client meetings, Sensing has learned to paraphrase what he hears to confirm he’s captured the message accurately. He also weaves in his experience — the fears, frustrations and joys of raising his sons — to strengthen his connection with clients.
“My boys,” he said, “have taught me more about patience and love than anyone could.”