Values Added

Zach Teutsch

Managing Partner
What do you love doing outside of work?

One of my favorite things is putting my 4-year-old on my shoulders, holding my 7-year-old’s hand, and walking the two of them to school in the morning. We usually talk about what’s going on at school, how they are feeling, and about what they are going to do to be kind that day. 

When I am not working or parenting, I love playing ultimate frisbee, baking bread, helping build a progressive movement in DC, and the agony and ecstasy of Philadelphia sports teams.

Why did you decide to become a financial advisor?

As soon as I began building a national program to teach union members financial skills, friends and family sought me out with questions about their own financial lives. We’d discuss over lunch or a beer.I loved helping. The technical questions presented interesting math problems–am I better off paying down debt faster or getting my workplace match? The most important things though, weren’t about math at all. They were about people’s worries, their visions, their values, and how money caused them anxiety, or worst of all, that financial considerations caused them to give up on things that were important to them. Those vulnerable moments were beautiful. It meant so much to me to help people who had worries to help them see that it would all be alright and let go of their anxiety. I’ve supported clients in building meaningful lives ever since.

What’s one of your favorite things you’ve helped a client change in their life (financial or otherwise)?

One of my clients was thriving in a c-suite role at a billion dollar startup. When we talked about what he really wanted, he said that the intensity of that work wasn’t sustainable and that he wanted to be more present in his kids’ lives. He knew that they would only be at home a few more years before going to college and worried that he wasn’t making the most of that limited time. I asked why not make a change and spend more time with them now.

He said because he was not sure he’d have enough money to do that without major impacts later.

So I said, “what I think I hear you saying is that it is a future risk that you are concerned about that is keeping you in this position now.” He agreed.

And I said, “what about the certainty that you are missing out on something important to you now?”

He had never thought about it quite that way—as avoiding the risk of a future bad outcome by guaranteeing a current bad outcome. He was ready to make a change. We built a plan that called for a new, more flexible work life and we check in about the financial implications periodically. Our analysis showed that he could easily afford to pursue the plan for 2+ years without any significant risk to his retirement success rate. If any of a wide-variety of things went right (equity increasing in value, new interesting advisory or consulting projects, etc) the new plan would be more than comfortable financially.

He decided to give it a try and now he gets to pick his kids up at school. He loves it. He could probably have increased his net worth more in a different way, but that wouldn’t have made his life better.

One of my great joys professionally is helping people understand that they have one wild and precious life and to not let self-limiting worries about money distract them from that. Supporting people in making sense of money and what they can afford to do in their communities, families, and world while maintaining the level of financial stability they desire is the core of my work.

What experiences do you bring to your work helping clients?
Before starting VAF, I was at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), where I worked on financial education and empowerment. Before that, I was in a different CFPB group, investigating mortgage servicing misconduct. Before that, I built the first national financial skills education programs for union members, first at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers (AFSCME), and then at the AFL-CIO Office of Investment and as a faculty member at the National Labor College. In all of those contexts, I learned about peoples’ financial lives, what they needed to be more financially secure, and what kept them from feeling that they had enough, or that they were financially secure. That encouraged me to be in relationship with clients, listening to them and their needs and helping them become empowered in their own financial lives. Prior to that I worked at the Change to Win Investment Group and at SEIU in the Capital Stewardship Program which advised pension funds with $1.5 Trillion in investments. That work helped me learn about institutional-scale investment issues, including financial topics like portfolio construction. Perhaps most importantly, it helped me learn about policy and ethics questions that arise with investment–especially how investors can move us towards a just and more sustainable world and what kind of differences investors and investing can make. By now I have worked with hundreds of families and see a lot of trends. Our world is set up to make people work more than they should, to acquire more than they need, all distracting them from what really matters: being of service, friendship, family, community, mindfulness, and even cultivating interests like art, books, fitness, etc. People realize they are not the only ones dealing with the challenges of overwork and of feeling hopeless. It can be good for people to know they aren’t the only ones and I bring the experience of working with hundreds of families to bear on the question of how to help people break out of that rut and to finally feel aligned and like their money matches their life vision.

I love making a difference in my community by…
I served two terms as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and loved it because it means that when I go around my neighborhood, I bump into people who I helped solve problems with their trash, cutting through red tape, or expediting road blocks which made it hard for them to open local businesses, etc. It brings me so much joy to see people I have been able to help whether it was in small ways or big. And serving in that role also created a good opportunity to support some campaigns that are important, such as the 59 express bus on 14th street. When I retired from being an ANC, I redoubled my efforts and lead Councilmember Janeese Lewis George’s campaign for DC Council. I am so appreciative to have been able to play that role in helping a transformative leader become the representative of the community. Personally, one of the issues I care the most about is tax justice because it is a racial justice and economic justice issue. And because of councilmember George’s election and leadership, she was able to finally raise taxes on millionaires to help reduce homelessness and augment wages of childhood education workers who are mostly women of color, and also build the first wage boosting system for people earning low-wages in DC.

Named to Financial Planning Magazine’s list of top-10 Rising Stars (2023).

AB in Economic Sociology with additional major in Organizational Behavior, Brown University

Examples of Zach in the press

See In The Press for more articles where Zach and other Values Added colleagues were featured.