Tinker Air Force Base is the largest employer in Oklahoma and many of its 26,000 uniformed and civilian workers do their banking at one of its credit union’s four branches—three inside the gate, one across the street.

About 750 of those families are clients of advisor Dustin Hellams. (Raymond James is the TPM for Tinker Federal Credit Union.)

Hellams’ career path wasn’t planned like this. The financial crisis added a twist. He had been working as a junior member of a Smith Barney team in Oklahoma City, but lost his job when the financial crisis hit.

Fortunately, the credit union had an opening. “I was blessed to have this opportunity appear with TFCU. I wasn’t looking at credit unions, but it’s a great place.”

He’s learned that being on a military base means he and his clients are pretty well insulated from economic downturns. That is, he adds, unless Congress decides to close the base or cut back its budget. For now, though, he sees his perch as a great place for growth.

Indeed, since he began with TFCU in 2009, his growth has been “pretty significant.”  Last year, his production was $376,000, up 28% from $294,000 the previous year.  In that time, his AUM increased 19% to  $57.5 million.

His clientele changed significantly when he made his last career move, and not just in terms of the clothes they wear. “At Smith Barney, most of my clients were oil-field type folks,” he explains. “They tended to be more risky in their investment philosophy. But with military types and military retirees, they tend to be more consistent and conservative in their investments. Even when it comes to the pilots, who are kind of wired differently when it comes to other things, with investing, they are slow and steady, and of course their incomes are more predictable than oilfield workers.”

The other big difference, he says, is that military and government workers have “a pretty nice pension system.” This includes the government Thrift Savings Plan, to which most contribute regularly.

Hellams says that while he never served in the military, he nonetheless relates well to his clients, as he hails from a military family—both his father and grandfather were career officers.

His clients range from young guys still in their teens to older retirees. Hellams and his wife volunteer as a host family for Tinker AFB’s Home Away from Home program, in which they “adopt” a few of the younger uniformed troops.

This entails spending non-work time with them, such as inviting them over on holidays and other family outings or even to a ballgame.

“They’re really just kids, often having their first experience away from home,” he says.

When it comes to investing, sometimes those young people will come to him with $1,000 and say, “What can I do with this?”

His response? “We make them aware of what’s available to them, like the TSP, and get them started with a savings plan.”

With older clients, he says he mostly turns to mutual funds and tries to encourage them to add a little more risk by moving a bit more into equities than they otherwise might, based upon the security they have with their pensions and Social Security. A lot of them “are a little heavily weighted toward Treasuries,” he says.

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