Illinois company helps clients LEAP into safer investing

Paul Gordon

When the economy began tanking last year, Chris Monroe became concerned. He is a multiple business owner, after all, with products to sell, employees to pay, obligations to meet.

But Monroe, owner of CPS, a financial services company in Peoria Heights, was not worried for his clients. He knew their finances were basically safe, as long as they continued to follow the program he put them in.

"This program significantly reduces your risk. It takes the word 'if' out of your financial planning," said Monroe.

The program he was speaking about is called LEAP - Lifetime Economic Acceleration Process - and he is one of only 5,000 financial planners in the country licensed to use it for his clients. There are only 100 in Illinois.

Monroe owns CPS with his wife, Heather. The office is small, with only two other staff - financial planner Tim Rollet and executive assistant Erin Lard. The Monroes also own Family Medical Equipment and Supply in Peoria.

One gets the feeling, though, that it's LEAP that gets Monroe's pulse accelerating. He has been a licensed practitioner of the program for eight years, since it was shown to him by another planner.

"I saw how different it was from any other plan. LEAP looks at the big picture, the macroeconomic picture. Most plans are all about accumulating assets and are not needs-based. This is, looking at what a person's needs are throughout their lifetime and everything in between," Monroe said about the program created in 1980 by Robert Castiglione.

LEAP shows people how money works and, with an eye toward minimizing risks while making their money work over and over, takes them through the processes:

- Protection - looking at the different types of insurance, trusts and wills, for example.

- Savings - including building liquidity, regular savings and tax benefits tools.

- Growth - including several types of investments such as stocks, bonds and real estate portfolios.

"We teach people to keep their money moving through the process, so you can make sure your assets are your assets," Monroe said. "We don't ignore the microeconomics. For example, we will help our clients find the kind of mortgage that best suits their needs, or the best way to fund their child's education. But all the while, we keep an eye on the big picture."

Monroe said a person doesn't need to be wealthy to employ the LEAP program. "We just want people to give their money, no matter how much they have, the proper respect. What we do is fairly contrarian. Everyone wants to do the proper planning but they don't know how to do it. We're looking for clients who are willing to challenge the usual advice. We want to then give them peace of mind."

That's what Cary Lyons gets from the program. The Caterpillar Inc. engineer is now going into his second recession as a LEAP believer and said he has no doubt he and his wife have done better financially than they otherwise might have been able to do.

"While others were in the thick of the recession in April, we were meeting with Chris to do an assessment for our child's college education.

"This is really a unique way of looking at your cash flow and how to manage it. I would say it's the best thing I have seen," said Lyons, who said he has been using LEAP for about 10 years. "It's non-traditional because it brings different aspects into financial planning that people normally don't consider. For example, we've learned about the value of whole life insurance and the tax benefits of it. We understand the risks much better."

Monroe said he is aware there are detractors to the LEAP program. Yet research on the Internet shows there is little in the way of criticism of the program. There is one case of a financial planner misusing the program to gain money from a client.

"Like any financial planning program it can be abused if the wrong person gets into it and doesn't have his client's best interest in mind. Everything about this business is integrity. We have structure in everything we do here, which gives us accountability.

"I'll tell you, when we had people who gained 3 percent on their assets last October instead of losing 45 percent as so many did, they became believers," Monroe said. "We plan for when or if the market drops. It did, and our clients were better prepared."

Paul Gordon can be reached at pgordon@pjstar.com.