Christopher Hall, APMA®, CPFA®
“Caring about somebody else more than you care about yourself guides your entire life.” This is Christopher Hall’s guiding philosophy, as a protector, a trusted friend, and a passionate financial steward—and one that fueled his determination to make a difference in people’s lives.
By 2018, with over a decade in financial planning, Christopher could have settled into the C-suite of a multinational firm. Instead, he set out to keep a promise that he’d made to himself long ago: “Growing up, we didn’t have access to financial advisors, and I swore that I would never turn people away because they didn’t have a hefty bank account,” he says. “I wanted to help people like my mom, my sisters, my neighbors—those who need financial guidance regardless of income.” That same year, Christopher, along with partner Betty Vargas, founded Pontem Financial in San Antonio, Texas, to carry out his pledge.
Led by the motto “Connecting Your Financial Dots,” Pontem is a financial planning firm whose distinct collaborative approach reflects the Latin meaning of its name: “bridge.” Their team of advisors are driven by the purpose to help people create a solid financial foundation and bridge the gap between today and the rest of their lives. To do so, they work with all parties in a family’s life—attorneys, CPAs, family members, and others—to help build and protect wealth across generations. Christopher specializes in simplifying the complexities and working through solutions that clients can easily understand. “We look at every component, from taxes to cash flow, investments to insurance,” he explains. “Further, while most professionals focus on the market, which is out of their control, we focus on factors that we can control with a process that relies on discipline and diligence.” Today, Christopher’s long-ago promise is ever present in the lives of Pontem’s more than 1,500 clients across 29 states.
We met with Christopher to learn more about the events that led to Pontem, what makes them so different, and how his personal experiences motivated him to serve the unique financial needs of women and families.
Let’s start at the beginning, Christopher. What compelled you to start your own firm?
During and after the 2008 crash, most firms had a hiring freeze. I even volunteered to work for free with a small boutique firm, and I had been in corporate finance for five years, yet the doors to the financial planning field were closed. Everyone told me to get a job in a bank until the economy recovered, but I was determined to accomplish the goal I’d set out to do—help people like my mom, my sisters, my neighbors—people who need financial guidance regardless of income. That’s precisely why my partner and I eventually formed Pontem Financial.
Unlike most financial planners who focus on the market, you focus on the “controllable” factors. What are a few of these and how can they help mitigate the impact of economic downturns or market volatility?
I focus on factors like cash flow and time-based goals. Understanding what you need or where you want to go is the most important aspect of determining how to reach your destination. Do you ever wonder why people are never taught to invest, budget, or file their taxes? The system is set up to prevent people from succeeding without the help of big banks and overpaid professionals like attorneys, CPAs, and investment brokers. Further, during the 2008 financial crisis, my family and friends couldn’t reach their financial professionals. I thought that was unacceptable and I’ve always made sure to provide my personal cell phone to every client. Years later it is still printed on my business cards. Personal access that you can’t find with other professionals when you need it the most.
What are some of the unique financial needs or goals specific to women, and how is your approach different from other financial planners?
My goal is to engage both spouses in the relationship. It is a statistical likelihood that women will outlive their spouse, and there’s also been a significant increase in divorce of people over the age of 50. These scenarios can be extremely complex, since women may not handle much of the financial factors in a marriage, and this is compounded by the emotional stress of divorce or death of a spouse. Asset management, insurance, income planning, taxes, living situation, kids, you name it. Additionally, there are usually third parties to collaborate with, such as a CPA, attorney, or a close family member who is helping their mom or dad, and they all need to be kept in the loop. Instead of relying on the client, who is under emotional stress, or the busy family member, I take on that responsibility, and walk alongside them every step of the way, because I can empathize with them.
When my parents divorced after 40 years of marriage, my father had been handling most of the finances. Assisting with retirement income planning, health care costs, and financing a home purchase were commonplace to me as a professional. But my parents, like countless others, were provided a questionnaire that was difficult to understand, and attorneys and CPAs needed information neither of my parents could provide. My role as a financial planner was key to being able to bridge the gap between emotional chaos and technical solutions. It takes time, patience, and care to manage the moving parts for my clients, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What do you enjoy most about your work, or what drives you?
I take pride in my belief that I am honoring God through my work. My clients have welcomed me into their families, and many rely on me to be there after they’re gone and to look over their loved ones in financial terms. It’s not a responsibility that I take lightly, and I hope they all know how much I strive for their approval.
Christopher Hall, APMA®, CPFA®
Co-Founder & Wealth Advisor — Pontem Financial