It is tradition here at The White Coat Investor to thank the entire White Coat Investor community for all of their hard work and support over the last year. This includes readers, listeners, viewers, students, scholarship applicants/winners/judges, followers, members, attendees, sponsors, advertisers, staff, and partners. We thank you for what you have done to help us to fulfill our missions over the last year.
The White Coat Investor is very mission-focused, and we have made substantial progress on all three missions this year. As a reminder, our three missions are:
- To help those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street
- To feed our entrepreneurial spirit
- To connect high-income earners with the “good guys” in the financial services industry
The biggest development at The White Coat Investor in 2021 was that we hired a whole lot more people to help us. Three full-timers and three-part timers joined our staff of two owners and three part-timers. I thought it would be great to feature our team members, both old and new, as we tell the story of The White Coat Investor over the last year.
Mission # 1 Help You Get a Fair Shake on Wall Street
The most important thing we do at The White Coat Investor is help doctors and similar high-income professionals stop doing dumb stuff with their money. We mostly do this by producing high-quality, useful, mostly-free content aimed at their unique financial concerns.
Jill has been with us since 2017. She is our content manager, and the blog is her primary responsibility. Her main job is to take the slop I write and somehow make it look good on the internet. She also manages all of the guest and WCI network posts and tries to optimize the site for both readers and the search engines.
We ran over 300 posts on the blog this year. The site now has 1,974 posts and another 171 pages. There are 83,025 comments on the blog posts—8,753 from this year alone. The most popular post this year was our Backdoor Roth IRA Tutorial. The most popular one actually written this year was Discounts for Health Care Workers. 2,846,346 of you came by the site this year, generating 12,578,086 pageviews. Since we started in May 2011, 11,851,517 people have come by and looked at 59,036,442 pages on the site.
The free email newsletter is one of the few things I still do entirely by myself. We worked hard to increase the number of people receiving it this year, and we're up to 55,052 subscribers, an increase of 39.1%. That was one of our big successes this year. If you're not already subscribed to it, do it today. Signing up entitles you to the FREE 12-email Financial Bootcamp course.
Besides an update on what we’re doing at WCI, we review the best financial articles for high-income professionals on the web each month, provide a market review, and have a “special tip”, which is basically a super-secret blog post that never shows up on the site. In addition to that monthly newsletter, the email list has three other options—getting every blog post by email, getting a weekly summary email of the blog posts, and our Real Estate Opportunities list. That particular list is a little over a year old, but we had a 180% increase in subscribers there (there are now 5,429 of you). The monthly newsletter currently goes out to 39,576 people, an increase of 82% from last year.
Cindy is our longest-serving team member. Since 2014 she has worn many hats, including business manager, bookkeeper, and ad saleswoman. In late 2016 I told her to go figure out how to do a podcast. I said, “I'm going to talk into a microphone, and you are going to do EVERYTHING else.” She went and figured it out and because of her efforts, tens of thousands of you became aware of the importance of financial literacy in your life. In fact, in any given week more of you are touched by the podcast than by anything else we do. The podcast is a mix of interviews with doctors and investing professionals and me either ranting or answering your questions. If you'd like me to answer your question on air, leave it on the speakpipe.
We have now put out a total of 191 episodes, including 53 from this year. Total downloads for the podcast are 6,564,397 (89.5% increase) and an average of 34,368 per episode (37% increase).
The White Coat Investor Podcast is rated 4.8/5 stars with 1,500 ratings (thanks to those who have left us a 5 star review). It is ranked #20 (up from #38) among investing podcasts by Apple Podcasts and #22 by Chartable. That's five spots behind Jim Cramer and nine behind Suze Orman, so I guess we still have some work to do.
Of our top five most downloaded episodes, two were produced this year:
- #139 (1/2/20) Physician Millionaires – How'd They Do It?— 59,821
- #127 (10/10/19) Understanding the Mega Backdoor Roth IRA — 50,607
- #130 (10/31/19) How to Retire Early as a Doctor with the Physician on Fire — 48,170
- #140 (1/9/20) Solving Your Financial Mistakes – 46,854
- #128 (10/17/19) Resident Physician Financial Mistakes – 46,326
As near as we can tell, you want us to spend more time talking about mistakes and millionaires!
I've never actually met Wendel. In fact, I don't think I've ever actually heard his voice. But he has certainly heard mine! He is our AV specialist. He does all of the editing of our podcasts, videocasts, and more and more of our other video, such as online courses and conferences. He's going to be doing even more for us this year, especially on The White Coat Investor Youtube Channel. He gave me no greater compliment than to ask me some of his personal financial questions during the year! It's like being asked by your nurses to take care of their family member.
We now have 194 videos on the channel. For 2020, we published 68 videos and had 186,296 views (83% increase) for 30,856 hours (116% increase) of watch time. We now have 8,730 subscribers (an increase of 108%). Our top video is still How to Fill Out Your 8606 Form, but How to Get Rich as a Doctor and How to Make a Portfolio Rebalancing Spreadsheet get honorable mentions. If you haven't yet, now is a great time to like, subscribe, and share the message!
Michelle is our social media guru. Poor thing. The truth is that most of our staff fulfills a “support role” where they are not directly facing the public. That is not the case for me, and certainly not the case for Michelle, who is at the “tip of the WCI spear”. If you've never had the opportunity to be the target for anonymous critics on the internet, you're really missing out. If you have, you know why this may be the most painful job in the company. She was given all kinds of new responsibilities this year. In fact, I actually took an entire month off from social media and the WCI forums/groups all together, just to see what would happen (more on that in a later blog post).
Michelle not only oversees our Facebook Group, WCI Forum, and WCI Subreddit, she is also now responsible for the content on our Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest. Along with volunteer moderators, she has to enforce the rules and approve new members. She also does a great job answering questions and directing followers to helpful resources.
The White Coat Investors Facebook Group is now 56,200 members strong, a 56% increase. We had 13,247 posts (48% increase), 216,412 comments (37% increase), and 520,831 reactions (71% increase). We made some moderation changes there recently that will hopefully position it to keep growing and be even more helpful to group members. Feedback on the change was universally positive, so I guess we should have done it earlier. Thanks to our moderators there: Donna White, Greg Morgan, Bill Yount, and David Anderson. If you'd like to help moderate, contact [email protected] My social media goal for 2021 is to spend more time here and less time on Twitter.
The WCI Forum saw 4,811,167 pageviews this year. That's actually a decrease from the prior year, but it's actually Google's fault. They changed an algorithm in May such that forums don't show up as much in search rankings as they used to. They fixed it somewhat in December, but it certainly affected forum traffic despite minimal effect on the blog. We now have 8,875 registered users (4% increase). James put a ton of work into it in the last couple of months that should make it faster and more reliable, and it seems to be paying off. We separated out our analytics there, too, which showed us in the last month that 46,205 people were on it during the month making 410,859 pageviews, so obviously most people are lurkers! It's still about 10 times the size of the subreddit as far as traffic.
A special thank you to our moderators: ACN, canadianoutlaw, DMFA, Doc Spouse, Hank, Hatton, jfoxcpacfp, Jim, nachos31, and Peds. We couldn't have a forum without them.
The r/whitecoatinvestor subreddit had a breakout year. We now have 10,400 members (277% increase) and had 508,014 page views (149% increase) in 2020. Thank you to the moderation team (RadOncDoc, DrPayItBack).
We have 17,994 followers on Facebook, a 32% increase.
We have 26,332 followers on Twitter, a 40% increase.
We have 10,600 followers on Instagram, a 109% increase.
We have 360 followers, a 93% increase.
Thank you to Michelle for lots of hard work on social media and thank you to our followers for following/liking/pinning/sharing WCI on social media. It really does help spread the message.
One of our newest staff members is Emily. I actually met Emily weeks after her hire date while attending her baby gender reveal involving a flyover by a family member. She will soon be a new mother and works on written content, both on the blog and perhaps more importantly, on the books. Not only did she help bring the latest book (The White Coat Investor's Guide for Students) to market, but is also taking care of problems and updates in the two older books.
The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing continues to sell hundreds of copies each month. Sales went up this year from 17,638 to 25,936 (47% increase), not including the audiobook (another 5,036 copies). Since it was published almost 7 years ago, we’ve sold 131,583 copies. It still ranks 8th in its category. The Kindle version still ranks 2nd and 4th in its categories. The audiobook still ranks 3rd in its category. Interestingly, despite selling more this year, it is ranked a little lower on Amazon than it was. Lots of books bought during the pandemic I guess, but it is down to the 5,406th best-selling book on Amazon. The book has 1,664 reviews, 94% of which are 4 or 5 stars.
The White Coat Investor's Financial Boot Camp: A 12-Step High-Yield Guide to Bring Your Finances Up to Speed was published in 2019. We sold 6,366 copies, not counting the audiobook (another 1,704 copies), a 37% decrease from the year it was published. It ranks 13th and 26th in its categories (7th and 14th on Kindle and 4th on Audible). It has had 177 reviews, 97% of which are four or five stars.
We hope the new book sees similar success. Thank you to Katie for lots of hard work managing bulk book sales this year.
We had our second Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference this year on March 11th-14th in Las Vegas. We really wished we had scheduled it a week or two earlier as a lot of attendees and even some speakers were not able to come in person due to the pandemic. It was certainly an exercise in adaption and turned out about as well as it could have under the circumstances. I was ready to swear off ever doing another conference again but instead, we brought on Chrislyn to manage future conferences, and she has been doing a great job.
Given all of the uncertainty this year, we decided to make the 2021 WCICON (March 4th-6th) a virtual conference. Aside from some obvious disadvantages (like getting to meet people and shake their hands face to face), it comes with a ton of advantages, too—like being able to put in a lot more content, keep the price down, and being able to let people continue to sign up for it until the day of the conference rather than selling out in less than 24 hours like last time.
The Online Courses
We had three online courses for sale this year. We had our flagship Fire Your Financial Advisor course, which helps you to develop your own written financial plan. We had 966 new students for this course in 2020 (3,098 total). We also had Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy-Park City, the video version of our 2018 CME conference. We had 541 new students this year (1,059 total). We also turned WCICON20 into an online course that offered CME (Continuing Financial Education 2020), a first for us, and had 710 new students there, not counting the 800 who were registered for the live conference.
Katie has been handling these courses for years now and continued to do a great job this year. As our youngest is now in school, she is also taking on more of a leadership, strategic, and administrative role in the company. She also oversees bulk book sales, provides continuity for the conferences for Chrislyn, does design work, and is helping develop new products.
We did the WCI scholarship a little differently this year, with ten winners. Thank you to all of the 64 volunteer judges and 892 applicants as well as the sponsors and contributors to the scholarship.
Grand Prize Winners ($12,000 each) include:
Second Prize Winners ($2,000 each) include:
Each winner also received access to a WCI online course. You'll notice we didn't give out books to their classes this year. That's because we have a much bigger book giveaway this year, as noted above.
In addition to the WCI Scholarship and the book giveaway to all first-year medical and dental students in the country, Katie and I also endowed a perpetual White Coat Investor scholarship that will outlive us and this company. It will cover the tuition for a pre-med student each year at our alma mater. We also matched contributions to a charity introduced on the podcast in December, raising tens of thousands of dollars to support the work of Rick Hodes.
For years I've been traveling all over the country to speak to groups of doctors and their trainees. The pandemic obviously had a dramatic effect on this habit. I missed meeting you in person and really connecting with those I was speaking to, but I didn't miss the business travel at all. If, like most docs, you've never really traveled regularly for business, it pretty much takes all of the fun out of traveling. Thanks to Zoom, I think I did even more presentations than usual but, honestly, I lost count. I think there were around 15 during the year. Thank you to all who hosted me and I hope those attending found them useful.
I continue to write for ACEP Now. I penned five columns for them in 2020. I do about a book chapter a year as well.
White Coat Investor Network
Leif Dahleen (Physician on FIRE), Peter Kim (Passive Income MD), and Jimmy Turner (The Physician Philosopher) all had incredible years in 2020, both in terms of expanding reach and improving business metrics. You get to see some of their content here on Saturdays, but if you want more, check out their blogs, podcasts, courses, conferences, and coaching services.
Overall, we positively impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people this year in some small way. We hope you were one of them. Thank you for sharing the message of The White Coat Investor with your peers, colleagues, and trainees. We are super excited for some great new developments in 2021 that we can now do thanks to our larger, more trained, and more dedicated staff!
# 2 Feed Our Entrepreneurial Spirit
Our second mission is “to feed our entrepreneurial spirit”. The White Coat Investor has been a for-profit business from day one. Sure, the vast majority of our audience never pays us anything directly, and we give a lot of money and products away every year, but Katie and I are also trying to make money here. However, we're also going into our third year of financial independence and know that we are eventually going to give away every dollar we make going forward, whether during our lives or afterward. It is only natural to have that impact our motivation to work and make more money. Late in 2019, we decided that something had to change. As a business, either WCI had to get smaller, or it had to get bigger. Either it had to shrink to a size I could handle, or we had to go on a serious hiring spree, and it had to get big enough to pay for it. After much thought and prayer, we decided to go bigger.
Our biggest needs at that point were improving the business systems and providing additional support for our current staff, and additional technical help. We needed both a Chief Operating Officer and a Chief Technology Officer. We couldn't quite decide which to hire first, but in the end, I decided I only wanted to hire one myself, so we got ourselves a Chief Operating Officer.
Brett has an MBA and had been running his own successful company for the last two decades. A master of organization, he has been a huge support for us. He runs the day to day operations of The White Coat Investor. He negotiates the major contracts, coordinates the promotes, hires/manages/pays the staff, manages relationships with our general counsel, intellectual property attorney, insurance agent, and accountant, and mostly keeps me from pulling all of my hair out.
The best part about hiring Brett was that I didn't have to hire the Chief Technology Officer, he did. James started a few months later. I told him my biggest concerns were website speed, better tracking of what is actually happening on the site, and to get everything fixed that we don't even know is wrong. For better or worse, he has spent most of his time and effort on that third category. Security, functionality, and speed have all improved significantly this year. He migrated the forum onto its own server and nobody even noticed. He fixed so many other things I can't even explain to you, but mostly I'm just glad I'm no longer lying awake at night worrying about all of the things that could (and occasionally did) happen with an online business. He is a huge resource for the rest of the staff.
As an entrepreneur, it has always been scary to me to bring on a new staff member. “What if the business tanks, and I can't afford to pay them? Then I'll have to fire them. Then how will their kids eat?” Well, our first few staff members were not single-income households, so that made me feel better. But these two full-time team members are sole breadwinners. They left a good business and a good job to come work for us. Scary stuff. At first glance, you would think employees work for their bosses, but in a lot of ways, we now work for our team members! Part of the pay for all of our employees depends on how the business does. Sure, we want it to do well for us, but we also want it to do well for them.
Of course, our poor team members also have to work for the worst boss in the world. Remember, I'm not even full-time. Not only do I still work half-time in the emergency department, but I'm also trying to live a somewhat FIRE-like lifestyle. Remember that post last month about all the trips I went on last Fall? Well, I'm not planning on cutting back on those. I have zero business or management training and I'm not even that nice. To make matters worse, there are two owners of this company, and Katie and I don't always see eye to eye on every issue. (Shocking, I know.)
Luckily, we're trying to create the best jobs in the world. High-pay, plenty of autonomy, the opportunity to work from home or really anywhere in the world, a share in the profits of the company, the world's best 401(k) (more on this in an upcoming post), and even a little Christmas bonus at the holiday party. And if they want to get away from their own kids for a while, we even have a new WCI headquarters built as part of our home renovation that was completed in 2020. The renovation wasn't all fire poles, slides, secret passageways, game rooms, theaters, and the Garage Majal. WCI got its own 825 square foot office space, including its own bathroom. Our first home was less than 825 square feet. The staff comes in for a meeting every month, Cindy comes over most weeks to record podcasts, and sometimes people just need to “go into the office”. One of the most gratifying things about starting The White Coat Investor for me has been to create good jobs for other people. If we help enough other people, I figure we can all get rich off this thing.
Apparently, with a new company you're supposed to try to inculcate some awesome “company culture”. I'm not sure if we have done or are doing this very well, but we certainly focus heavily on mission # 1 (help those who wear the white coat get a fair shake) whenever we have to make business decisions, and always try to take care of our people. Leaders eat last around here (but so far, they've always eaten well so they can't complain much).
The Financial Report
The pandemic has had dramatic effects on all of our lives. Those effects are both positive and negative when it comes to the business. For example, all of my live presentations were basically canceled or converted to online for an entire year. We had planned to run another live, in-person WCICON for 2021. No such luck. Temporary changes to federal student loan payments/interest rates obviously impacted how many of our readers refinanced their federal loans through our affiliate links. On the positive side, lots of people freed up a lot more time to become financially literate this year. That meant reading our site, listening to our podcast, and taking our online courses. Those who already had private student loans could refinance them again and again as interest rates dropped, earning cash for them and us as they did so. Given that one of our courses and our conference are eligible for CME, this was one of the few places where people could spend their 2020 CME dollars. Despite the craziness of March and April, most of our audience is still earning money and needing the services of our advertisers. I'm super thankful to be an online business where everybody works remotely rather than a convention hall, restaurant, or airline.
When you add it all up, we still grew, but not as much as we expected to. Our top-line (revenue) growth was 37% and our bottom-line (profits + owner salaries) growth was 24%. No surprise the business has a lower profit percentage given that we have three times the staff hours that we had a year ago along with a lot of legal and accounting expenses associated with some restructuring.
Conflicts of Interest
Every year we remind ourselves and you that, as a for-profit business, we have serious conflicts of interest. The first law of economics is that people respond to incentives, and although many doctors don't think drug reps influence their prescribing habits, the data would suggest otherwise. As you enjoy our content during the next year, keep our conflicts of interest in mind. They haven't changed significantly since last year.
- We are incentivized to run content that relates to our advertisers’ businesses (and especially those with whom I have an affiliate marketing relationship) more frequently than other content. However, we try to balance our content as best we can. Frankly, most of our content decisions are made based on what I feel like writing or talking about rather than any sort of pressure from “the business department”.
- We are incentivized to accept guest posts from financial professionals who advertise with us 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 each year (and 100% of that revenue goes to the scholarship recipients). We have a policy to judge guest posts purely on the basis of the content and do our best to follow it.
- We are 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, but last year was a notable exception given the temporary changes with federal student loans for 2020.
- We are incentivized to recommend you seek out professional help with insurance, financial planning, investment management, student loan advice, purchasing and selling real estate, negotiating contracts, borrowing a practice loan, and preparing your taxes when perhaps you may be able to do that on your own.
- We are incentivized to recommend and discuss alternative investments such as real estate over boring index funds. We're still trying to get Vanguard to advertise with us, but so far no luck.
- We are incentivized to accept advertisers who do not meet our high standards for recommendation to friends and family.
- We are incentivized to recommend you use a physician mortgage loan over a conventional one.
- We are incentivized to recommend you read financial books, including and especially our own.
- We are incentivized to recommend you take our financial courses and those of our affiliate partners.
- We are incentivized to recommend you attend WCICON either in person, virtually, or preferably both!
- We are incentivized against recommending content by others who have the same affiliate marketing partners or who compete for the same advertisers unless I am also a partial owner of their site.
- We are incentivized to recommend the content and products of our WCI Network blog partners, in which I am a minority partner.
- We are incentivized to recommend you use the WCI Forum over the Bogleheads and other forums and the White Coat Investors Facebook Group over others.
That's all I can think of for now. All of us still share the “blame” for these conflicts of interest. We must take some of it, because we are not willing to do this work for free (and none of our staff members are). However, you must also take some of the blame, because you are not willing to pay for the content that we are currently giving you for free. We could make the blog, newsletter, podcast, etc. a subscription (i.e. fee-only) service, but when we survey you, fewer than 1% say they would be willing to pay for it, and those who would aren't willing to pay very much. So we would only be helping a tiny fraction of those we are helping now. We'd make less money, do a lot less good, and probably quit. Seems like a bad idea to me, but if you want to try to compete with us using that payment model, we wish you the best of luck.
# 3 Connect You with the Good Guys
Our partnerships and relationships continue to grow. Although many doctors wish they never had to interact with a financial professional, the truth is that all of us will multiple times during our life. It might just be a transactional thing like drafting a will, refinancing student loans, getting a mortgage, or purchasing insurance, or it might be a long-term relationship with an attorney, financial planner, or investment manager. The good news is that there are some good guys (and gals) out there who offer good advice at a fair price.
I’m proud to have not only built up The White Coat Investor, LLC but also to have had a major impact on the business of many of my advertisers/partners. We are a major source of referrals for many of them and are proud to be helping them to feed their kids and send them to college. A major part of our mission is connecting you with these people when you need them. We create value for them, by sending them great clients, and we create value for you, by making sure you’re not getting ripped off.
Meanwhile, we’re slowly doing what we can to run the bad guys out of business and to bring costs down. I turn down lots of advertisers. Most of them are shocked when I do so as they feel they are running good businesses and offering good service, but this is one of the few ways I have to improve the financial services industry. Those decisions sometimes cost us thousands, but taking that money just isn’t the right thing to do. Sometimes that feedback changes how the firm does business, sometimes it doesn't, but at least we’ll be able to sleep at night.
At any rate, when you do have need of these services, we would appreciate it if you would at least consider using those who advertise on the site. They’ve had some preliminary vetting by me and some ongoing vetting by your fellow readers. You can find most of them under the recommended tabs at the top of the site. The retirement account providers is the newest page this year.
- Student Loan Refinancing
- Mortgage Lenders
- Independent Insurance Agents
- Financial Planners and Asset Managers
- Retirement Account Providers (Self-Directed IRAs, 401(k)s, HSAs)
- Real Estate Investing Companies
- Student Loan Advice
- Contract Negotiation and Legal
- Practice Loans
- Tax Strategists
Our newest hire, Andrew, just started this month. You'll learn more about him in a future post, but he is going to help us serve you even better going forward with our newest product line. (It's all I can do not to tell you about it right now!) He's got a brand new baby and a brand new job so lots of change for him right now.
We had a wonderful time serving you in 2020 and look forward to doing so for many years to come. Thank you for the difficult work you do on a daily basis and for sharing our work with others. We hope your life has been enriched by our hard work. May The White Coat Investor continue to help those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street, feed our entrepreneurial spirit, and connect our community with the good guys in the financial services industry.
What do you think? Comment below!