LPL Financial advisor Laurie Barela, CFP® and founder of Vargas Wealth Management, shares how she built a client-centric practice — and maintained that approach even during a challenging environment.

As a matter of principle, every decision Laurie Barela makes for her business is centered on what is best for the client, as well as her close-knit team. And her response to the COVID-19 pandemic was no exception.

Amid growing concerns about safety and social distancing from her clients and staff alike, Laurie made the decision to turn her practice into a completely virtual office. While Laurie was somewhat unsure how her clients would respond, the move has resulted in a great deal of positive feedback, which Laurie feels has set her up for tremendous growth in the future.

Laurie sees the current environment as an opportunity to adapt and grow, and as a result, Vargas Wealth Management is better positioned than ever before to support clients and continue to thrive. 


The journey to a client-centric practice

Laurie started her career at the major wirehouses, where, she says, the focus was more on the firm than the client.

“In my experience, the wirehouses had very strict environments where everyone was suited up every day and required to be a million-dollar producer. It was very much about promoting the brand, rather than discovering which product might best fit the client.” But when she transitioned to AG Edwards, a firm whose entire focus was on the client, she realized there was another way.

“It was an awakening,” she says, “and where my career really started to blossom. The firm didn’t have any proprietary funds or products; rather, we were told to select whichever products we felt were best for the client’s situation. This client-centric approach really resonated with me and felt right. Thus began my avenue toward the independent model.”

When AG Edwards was purchased during the 2008 financial crisis and changed hands several times, Laurie made the decision to go out on her own and design a client-focused firm that was fixedly founded in her values. Laurie’s bold move paid off. Forty-nine of the 50 clients she invited came along with her, and she’s only grown from there.

“I finally feel like I’ve arrived at a place where I can use the talents I have and do so in a meaningful way to serve the people who chose me,” she says.

A value proposition rooted in planning

From the beginning, Laurie placed an emphasis on financial planning that covers all areas of a client’s financial life, far beyond their portfolio allocation.

“We go deep into planning with clients and delve into the client’s life,” she says. “We ask them to paint a picture for us, help us see their story, and let us journey along with them. It’s amazing to be a part of and see how our work with them pays off. Because they made wise financial choices with us, for example, clients have been able to pay off their mortgage early, give a daughter the wedding of her dreams, or travel with their grandchildren.”

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This approach is not only rewarding for Laurie, but has also led to growth. “Our financial planning approach has allowed us to develop in-depth relationships with our clients that move the needle,” she says. “Our clients also started to refer family and friends, because they valued our approach. While it will never be about collecting clients or having a huge firm, we can now selectively grow and choose how we want to expand.”

The journey to a virtual office

Laurie applied the same decision-making process she always uses in her approach to the COVID-19 pandemic—do what’s best for the client. Ultimately, she decided to close her physical office to ensure safety for both her staff and her clients, and recently she made the choice to permanently close her office space — for now.

“It was so heart wrenching for me to close our office, because I really felt it was a physical manifestation of the client experience we’d built,” she says. “But when we polled our clients, they told us they didn’t feel comfortable meeting in person yet, and from a business and safety perspective, it made sense to move fully virtual.”

When she announced to her clients that their office was to operate virtually moving forward, she was amazed at the positive response she received.

“My clients embraced the decision wholeheartedly. I even got three referrals just this week, soon after our announcement.”

The move has also given her and her team a measure of work-life balance they never expected, but are very much enjoying. “We’re in a really great place, and I’m excited to see where a virtual office takes us.”

Virtual tools key to success

Laurie also adopted several new tools to help ensure that the move to virtual would be a success for the team. One key tool was the use of Redtail workflows.

“We’ve developed clear, repeatable processes outlined in the form of Redtail workflows that assign certain tasks to each individual on the team at a different stage of the client journey, such as an initial prospect meeting, a portfolio review meeting, or a financial plan meeting,” she says.

“I can’t tell you the value these workflows have brought and the difference they made during a time when we had to work blindly.”

Forging forward

Laurie sees this new virtual office environment as a significant opportunity to not only continue to serve her existing clients in the way they prefer today, but also grow in the future.

“We’re embarking on this new phase of business that I believe is the modern way of approaching wealth management that will give us a differentiator we’re excited to explore and market,” she says. “This is truly an exciting time.”

Want to go fully virtual? LPL can help

If you want to move to a virtual office like Laurie did, LPL has the tools and technologies to help you. To discover more, LPL advisors can search for “Thrivalist” and “Technology Solutions” on the Resource Center.

Not an LPL advisor? Check out this blog post, “How Advisors Can Solve Remote Work—and Returning to Work—Challenges” on