The financial planning industry is mourning the passing of Eileen Sharkey, one of the industry’s pioneers, who leaves a solid legacy as a mentor, friend, colleague, educator and staunch proponent of quality financial advice.
Sharkey, co-founder of the Denver, Colorado-based financial planning firm Sharkey Howes & Javer, died April 19 due to recently developed medical complications, according to a statement from the firm.
She was 75 and is survived by her husband Jim Darling.
“Our team is deeply saddened over this loss, and we understand this news will be difficult for many of our clients who worked closely with Eileen over the years,” the statement reads in part.
“Eileen was a pioneer of the fee-only business model and an advocate for public education programs on personal finance,” the statement continued. “She was influential in promoting women in the financial industry and fee-only financial planning held a special place in her heart. She believed that financial planning was for everyone, not just the wealthy, and used every platform available to her to promote this belief.”
In 2016, when she was featured among the InvestmentNews’ Women to Watch, Sharkey reflected on her career and her legacy.
“I was very good at financial counseling, but not as good at running a business on my own. It’s a very hard lesson to involve other people at a higher level,” she said, describing her decision to take on partners to build her firm.
In terms of working with clients, Sharkey advised, “Know what clients really want to do and measure their progress. Their money is there to support their life goals and dreams, not to beat some market return.”
Sharkey retired on Dec. 31 after a career that spanned decades and left an enduring mark on the evolution of financial services.
A certified financial planner designee since 1977, Sharkey was among the first to earn the rights to use the CFP mark.
She served as a leader within virtually every organization in the financial planning space, including the International Association for Financial Planning and the Institute of Certified Financial Planners, which merged in 2000 to create the Financial Planning Association.
“Eileen Sharkey was a financial planning pioneer who played a critical role in forming the Financial Planning Association,” said FPA president Skip Schweiss.
“She was the first woman to serve on the board of directors for the Institute of Certified Financial Planners and led initial efforts to merge with the International Association of Financial Planners to create FPA,” Schweiss said. “Her passionate approach to planning and the care with which she communicated its complexities made financial planning more understandable and accessible.
In 2009, Sharkey won the FPA’s P. Kemp Fain, Jr., Award .
Sharkey served as president of the ICFP, and she was founder and first president of the Rocky Mountain IAFP chapter. She served on national boards of both the ICFP and IAFP.
She was a director of the Centennial Estate Planning Council in 1994, and was an adjunct faculty member for the College for Financial Planning.
Sharkey was appointed to the advisory board for the masters program at the College for Financial Planning in 1998 and appointed in the board of directors in 1999.
Sharkey co-founded her firm in 1990 along with Lawrence Howes, Joel Javer and Dick Wagner.
Javer recalls the initial meeting of the four would-be partners, who headed for a weekend retreat to discuss the business plan.
“We figured if we could cook together, we could work together,” said Javer, who recalled his ride to the retreat with Sharkey.
“I remember stopping to eat at a restaurant and Eileen ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, which I thought was a strange,” he said. “I asked her why she would order grilled cheese, and she said, ‘Because I’ve never had one.’”
Originally from Yorkshire in the United Kingdom, Sharkey moved to the United States as a young adult and settled in Kansas because she believed locating in the middle of the country would make it easier to travel to see the rest of the country.
“She quickly learned that it’s not as easy to explore the U.S. the way they do in Europe,” Javer said.
When it came time to name the firm, he said, “We put her name first because she was more known than the rest of us.”
As a business partner and friend, Javer described Sharkey as a “dynamic leader who had a wonderful ability to understand clients, both emotionally and financially. She was a special person who taught us all a lot.”
Alexandra Armstrong, principal at Armstrong Fleming & Moore, joined Sharkey in 1977 as some of the first women to earn a CFP, and she remembers her longtime friend as a “champion on women.”
“I worked with her on various projects and was always impressed with her ability to get to the point,” Armstrong said. “She had a great sense of humor, was smart as a whip, and she always thought a little bit ahead of everyone else. You just wanted to be her friend.”
Jon Dauphiné, chief executive of the Foundation for Financial Planning, remembers Sharkey as a “remarkable trailblazer in the field of financial planning, she was also a stalwart champion of the idea that financial planning can benefit all people.”
“She lived her commitment to this through her tireless and generous support of pro bono financial planning, which included serving on FFP’s board,” he added. “Eileen leaves behind a rich legacy that includes having made it possible for thousands of underserved people, who normally would have lacked access, to benefit from financial planning and advice. We will miss her.”
Michael Kitces, head of planning strategy at Buckingham Strategic Partners, memorialized Sharkey in a LinkedIn post over the weekend, describing her as “a pioneer of financial planning.”
“Early chair of ICFP, who helped lead the first attempt to merge with the IAFP to form the Financial Planning Association, and part of the committee that finalized it a decade later,” Kitces wrote. “Your legacy lives on.”
The Kitces post sparked a long string of replies and follow-on posts recognizing Sharkey’s contributions to the industry.
“She was one of the finest persons I ever knew,” said Vern Hayden, client advocate at Sovereign Financial Group.
“A total professional,” he added. “More than that, she was humble with lots of empathy. She could simplify the most complicated issues and create understanding. A legendary lady.”
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