State of the Blog 2017

We have an annual tradition at The White Coat Investor each January of reporting on all of the wonderful things that have happened here in the last year and thanking the community (readers and sponsors) for their support. I cannot adequately express my gratitude in writing to each and every one of you for your support these last 5 1/2 years. When I began this crazy journey in 2011 I didn’t know if I would still be at it 2 years later, much less that I would enjoy the sense of accomplishment, additional income, and bizarre fame that now accompanies me where ever I go. It is now routine for me to have a quick financial chat with accepting physicians when I transfer patients. One of my hospitalists had a medical student rotating with him telling him about my site. Imagine the student’s surprise when the doc marched him down to the ED to meet me and admit one of my patients. It used to be when I went to do speaking engagements that 5% or less of the audience had been to the site. Now I’m frequently speaking to a “friendly crowd” where half or more of them have been on the site. It’s been a lot of fun. In addition, imitation is the greatest form of flattery as discussed in a post a couple of months back.

I thought this year that I would divide this post up by the three missions of this site, which as you’ll recall are:

  1. Help those who wear the white coat (and other high income professionals) get a “fair shake” on Wall Street
  2. Feed my entrepreneurial spirit
  3. Connect high-income professionals with the relatively few “good guys” in the financial services industry

Mission # 1 Getting A “Fair Shake” On Wall Street

The amount of business, personal finance, and investing education that physicians and other high income professionals receive during their training is ridiculously low. This site, together with the efforts of many of you, aims to fill that gap by providing accessible, “just-in-time” education 24/7/365 on topics relevant to their personal and professional lives. Topics presented on the blog, both by me and by guest posters, are primarily chosen for that purpose.  By any measure, we (you, my staff, and I) have been immensely successful at this mission this year.

This year, I wrote 119 posts and guest posters contributed another 57 posts this year. The site is now composed of  973 posts and 74 pages. One of the best parts of the blog is the extremely civil engagement that happens in the comments section. This year there were 11,718 comments posted on the blog (36,718 since site inception.)

We had 1,053,874 unique visitors to the site this year and 5,299,173 total pageviews. Since inception, those numbers are 3,141,030 and 14,343,315. The most visited pages this year (aside from the homepages and “Start Here” page,) were the Doctor Mortgage Loan page and the Backdoor Roth IRA Tutorial. Of posts written this year, the most popular one was “What Should I Do With My Student Loans?” The most interesting of the top ten search terms that led people to the site was “Are Doctors Rich?”

One year ago this month, we started The White Coat Investor Forum. We have now had 1681 people register to participate and they have started 1554 threads and posted 15,148 posts. One mark of success is only four people had to be banned and moderation has been a relatively easy task. Nonetheless, we are always recruiting new moderators. Send me a PM on the forum if you are interested.

This year we had our second iteration of The White Coat Investor Scholarship. We received the 100+ applicants we were looking for in just a few days (instead of 5 months like last year.) We gave away about 28,000 in cash and prizes. If you missed them, the winning essays can be found here:

Investments Come In Many Forms – 2016 WCI Scholarship Grand Prize Winner
Moving Forward – 2016 WCI Scholarship 2nd Place
Focus On The Light – 2016 WCI Scholarship 3rd Place
Social Entrepreneurship – 2016 WCI Scholarship 4th Place
For Sleep’s Sake! – 2016 WCI Scholarship 5th Place

A special thanks seems appropriate here to the Platinum sponsors ($2,500+) for the 2016 scholarship:

Larry Keller (Physician Financial Services) – Disability and Life Insurance
Earnest Student Loan Refinancing
Michael Relvas (MR Insurance) – Disability and Life Insurance
CommonBond – Student Loan Refinancing
Sandi Frith (Huntington Bank) – Doctor Mortgages

The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing, continues to be a smashing success. It is currently the 2,639th most popular book on Amazon, an incredible feat for such a niche non-fiction book. It is ranked # 3 in the “Books-Mutual Funds” category and # 92 in the much larger “Books-Personal Finance” category. The Kindle version ranks # 1 in the “Physicians” category, # 3 in the “Mutual Funds” category, and # 5 in the “Books-Mutual Funds” category. (Yes, this book holds two of the top five positions in that category). Thousands of copies were again sold in this, it’s third year. 87% of its 566 reviews were 5 star, and 99% of them rated the book 3 stars or higher. This Fall, it became available on Audible for the first time (We could use a few more reviews there if you don’t mind.) The dozens of readers who contributed to making that book a success should be very proud of their work.

I really got into Twitter this year, and now have 2,720 followers. We have also been liked by 2,425 people and followed by 2,417 people on Facebook. The newsletter readership increased from 6,406 to 10,324. About 4,100 people currently read each blog post by RSS/email readers.

I had about 30 speaking engagements and podcast appearances this year. Thankfully, 5 of those engagements were local, so that reduced my time away quite a bit. In addition to the stuff published on my blog, I also wrote 25-30 other articles, blog posts, book chapters etc. for others.

This year we also revamped the archives page, making it much easier to read old posts by date or subject matter.

We have lots of great plans for this year to help reach even more high-income professionals. Probably the biggest announcement is the podcast. We are almost done with the first five episodes which should be available this month. I’m not sure how often we’ll do updates. Certainly no more often than once a week, but probably more like once or twice a month. It still needs some polishing, but hopefully you find it useful during those long commutes, and if it is like most of the stuff associated with this site, it gets a lot better the more of you that participate in it. Like with anything, reviews can be very helpful, so I’d appreciate you leaving us a kind one. Even better, shoot me an email with some constructive criticism, the best kind of feedback.

We also have a new feature coming out on the newsletter list. We’re tentatively calling this the WCI 12 Step Program. This is designed to help busy professionals to rapidly get the information and motivation they need to clean up their financial messes. When you sign up for the newsletter, you will get an email once a week for 12 weeks. Each email will include not only information critical to your success, but also a “homework” task for you to perform that week. Eventually, I’ll improve, expand, and compile those emails into another book. Those of you who are already signed up for the email list will also get the 12 Step Program, all for free like everything else on the site (except the books.)

We also have two books in the works that will hopefully hit the market this year.

Mission # 2 Feeding My Inner Entrepreneur

This website has been a for-profit enterprise from day one. Sure, it didn’t make much money those first two or three years, but eventually all of that hard work started to pay off, for which my family and I will forever be grateful to you and the site’s sponsors. Don’t get me wrong. We were on track to be very financially successful long before starting the site. In fact, we were millionaires before the site ever made any money. That first million, 7 years out of training, was all due to medicine, discipline, and good financial decision making. However, the financial success of this business is certainly helping us to reach our financial goals faster by allowing us to save, give, and spend more each year than we had ever planned. You may have noticed a few changes in tone and content in some posts as my personal financial focus moves away from managing money in a way that leads to financial success and toward managing money in a way that maximizes happiness once financial success occurs. One advantage I have in writing for trainees and high-income professionals of all kinds of different incomes is that I have been in every tax bracket at some point in the last 15 years. While initially it was difficult for me to relate to doctors making more than the average physician (our gross income the year I started the blog was $177K–the most we had ever made in a year up until that time,) I can now relate to many of the financial issues and struggles that highly paid specialists, two-physician couples, and successful entrepreneurs deal with. Hopefully, I will always remember what it was like to be living on a fraction of that income.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that most students, residents, physicians, and other high-income professionals were not going to pay for the information that I had and they needed to learn, no matter how valuable it would eventually be to them. I’m just as cheap as you are. So I knew that, for the most part, the information could not be the product of the business because doctors weren’t going to be the customers. So what’s the product? Well, you are, specifically your eyeballs. And who are the customers? Well, that’s the advertisers. Obviously the book is a little different, but for the most part, that’s the business model here.

Thanks to this crazy crew of WCI employees for their support this year!

Thanks to this crazy crew of WCI employees for their support this year!

It’s important that the site be money-generating, and not just because it helps us buy nicer cars, go on nicer vacations, pay off our house earlier, save up more for our kids’ college educations, and give more money away to our favorite causes, including the WCI Scholarship. The reason why is it keeps me engaged. I mean, I’m a relatively self-less guy; 20% of my patients don’t pay me, my wife and I give large quantities to charity each year, and we each spend a lot of time volunteering for community organizations. But there is no way I’m doing 30 speaking engagements, writing 30 articles, posting 120 blog posts, editing another 50 blog posts, sorting through 100+ scholarship essays, maintaining lists of recommended financial professionals, moderating 10,000 comments, keeping a website running, and engaging with thousands of readers via email, forum posts, and comments for nothing. I’m sorry, I might be altruistic, but I’m also a capitalist.

All of that activity takes time away from my practice, my family, and my recreational pursuits. There has got to be something in it for me in order to keep me engaged and interested, and something in it for my wife for her to provide the ridiculous level of support she has given me the last few years as I’ve embarked on this mission. I’m not surprised to see that almost all of those who have decided to join me (compete with me?) in helping high-income professionals become financially literate have also chosen to establish for-profit businesses. On a sad note, one of those bloggers, radiology resident Amanda Liu, died late last year, so this is a great opportunity to recognize her accomplishments. She accomplished more for the cause of physician financial literacy in a couple of years as a busy resident than many of us have in our entire lives.

However, the problem with being for-profit while also trying to provide unbiased financial information is that making money introduces conflicts of interest. I try to manage these conflicts by disclosing them at every possible opportunity. Now that I have lots of other businesses competing with me, I have to be a little bit careful in exactly how I do that so as not to give away the trade secrets I worked out over years. But I intend to continue to give a financial report of some type each year, so here is that report.

[Update January 2019: I decided to remove the financial reports from the State of the Blog posts for the last three years. You can read the reasoning on the January 2019 post.]

Conflicts of Interest

So, what are our main conflicts of interest? They are surprisingly few and they haven’t really changed from last year, where I discussed many of my ethical dilemmas as a blogger in detail. I work very hard to minimize or eliminate these effects as much as I can, but I’m sure there is at least a subconscious effect on what happens here. Here are all the ones I can think of:

  1. I am incentivized to run content that relates to my advertisers’ businesses (and especially those with whom I have an affiliate marketing relationship) more frequently than other content.
  2. I am incentivized to accept guest posts from high income professionals who advertise with me more frequently than those who do not, although the only “sponsored posts” this site has ever run are those by the five platinum scholarship sponsors last year (and 100% of that revenue went to the scholarship recipients.)
  3. I am incentivized to recommend you refinance your student loans when perhaps it would not be a good move for you (which is awfully rare if you’re not going for PSLF.)
  4. I am incentivized to recommend you seek out professional help with insurance, financial planning, investment management, student loan advice, purchasing and selling real estate, negotiating contracts, and preparing your taxes when perhaps you may be able to do that on your own.
  5. I am incentivized to recommend alternative investments such as real estate and Peer to Peer Loans over boring index funds at Vanguard.
  6. I am incentivized to accept advertisers who do not meet my high standards for recommendation to friends and family.
  7. I am incentivized to recommend you use a physician mortgage loan over a conventional one, although I don’t recall ever doing that.
  8. I am incentivized to recommend you read financial books, including and especially my own.
  9. I am incentivized against recommending content by others who have the same affiliate marketing partners or who compete for the same advertisers.

Mission # 3 Connecting With “The Good Guys”

When I first started The White Coat Investor, I had to wonder if there were any good people in the financial services industry. My general attitude toward them was best explained by William Bernstein, MD:

“You are engaged in a life-and-death struggle with the financial services industry. … If you act on the assumption that every broker, insurance salesman … and financial advisor you encounter is a hardened criminal, you will do just fine.”

I’ve been pleased to discover over the years that not every financial professional is a hardened criminal, and I am honored to recommend the services of those you see advertised on the site (with the exception of ads provided by ad-serving software such as Google Adsense, who knows what will pop up there. Blame your own browsing habits if it is something crazy.)

I am frequently asked for recommendations for books, websites, student loan refinancers, doctor mortgage lenders, financial advisors, insurance agents, contract reviewers, student loan pros, realtors, and tax strategists. I wish I had more to recommend in many of those categories. You can find all of those recommended firms under the “Recommended” tab on every page of the blog. Yes, they are all paid advertisers on the blog (see mission # 2) but that is beneficial in that it connects professionals looking for clients with clients looking for professionals. I am occasionally saddened to have to remove a great financial advisor from the list as his practice fills and he no longer has a need to advertise. But it seems silly (and certainly not very profitable) to send you to someone who cannot meet your needs, no matter how good they are. Rest assured that I have done some initial vetting and due diligence on each of these firms (I am rejecting about 2 out of 3 financial advisors lately) and that WCI readers continue to do due diligence as they use their services. If I get multiple complaints about them, they are removed from the list. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

At any rate, when you have a need for a financial services professional, I hope you would consider using the services of one who supports this site. In some instances, that earns you a “special WCI-negotiated deal,” but in all instances it keeps you from being connected to an incompetent or unfairly priced professional. Of course, please continue to send me feedback, both good and bad, about your experience with these professionals.

In conclusion, thank you so much for reading the blog and/or sponsoring the site and especially for telling everyone you know about it. If you are here, you know just as well as I do how important it is to get this information out to other high-income professionals so they can optimize their finances and focus their time on their practice, family, and health instead.

What do you think? What did you like most this last year? What year did you start reading the blog? What attracted you here and what has kept you reading? What improvements would you like to see? Comment below!