Jenny Luna
Special to the Bonanza

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February 28, 2013
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Meet Your Merchant: From the open seas to financial advising at Lake Tahoe

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - On the open seas of the Pacific, as the sun would set on the vast stretch of blue, Owen A. Hill fell in love with finance. Sailing mostly to and from Hawaii on merchant ships, the officer spent idle time doing what he loved - studying numbers and learning about money.

"I read everything I could," Hill said. "It was a great job for reading - time when you couldn't go anywhere."

As his ships sailed down the U.S. coast and went south to cities like Rio and Valparaiso, a young Hill continued to study and read; he did his own taxes each year, something he found more of a hobby than anything else.

"They actually pay people for what I'd been doing for myself all those years at sea," Hill said.

Although he loved the peace of the open sea, at 22 years old Hill knew he didn't want to be on the ship forever, and he wanted to put his money to work. Twenty six years after working on ships, Hill decided to pursue his passion for financial planning and tax income preparation.

"I didn't want to be stuck out on the sea for the rest of my working life," Hill said.

Hill retired from the ship at age 49 and settled back on the West Coast where he began the second half of his life and a new career in finance.

Today, Hill owns North Lake Tahoe Financial Services, where he offers fee-only financial planning, investment portfolio review, accounting services and tax return preparation.

Not only his years studying at sea, but also his experience with the National Association of Enrolled Agents as well as the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors make Hill highly experienced and qualified as a financial adviser. He is a certified Financial Planner as well as a Registered Investment Advisor in both California and Nevada.

At North Lake Tahoe Financial Services, Hill finds that all clients are different, and spending good time with each is crucial to his work.

"It's important to talk with people about what their goals are," Hill said. "Nobody is the same."

Knowing each client's back story as well as his or her future goals allows Hill to create plans that fit individuals' needs.

"It's kind of like a check-up you'd get from your doctor's office to tell you about your financial health," Hill said.

He and Client Service Manager Corinne Petra work out of their office in Incline, catering to clients in the Tahoe area as well as people across the country. Clients range from traveling nurses, to small business owners, and Hill advises many merchant seamen as well.

"I can relate," Hill said. "They're away from home a lot, and they would rather retire sooner than later."

Hill enjoys his work, describing his job as "not ever one where I'm looking at the clock." He spends a lot of time researching each client's needs to better cater to their financial goals.

"Owen takes the extra time and does the extra research," Petra said. "He continues to do what is best for the client, not just what's easiest for him."

Hill charges hourly for his services and says that if a process takes five minutes, "we charge five minutes."

He usually advises his clients to invest in mutual funds and to start as early as possible.

"Nobody in their 20s wants to do that, and it's a shame because that's when it has extra time to grow," he said.

Hill usually doesn't advise his clients to invest in timeshare properties. But last year when he and his wife, Gail, were in San Diego, a high rise building in Pacific Beach caught the couples' eye, and because "our time there wouldn't fall during tax season, and just happens to fall on both of our birthdays," he said he went against his own advice.

The wallpaper on Hill's desktop computer is a photo of a long stretch of beach. His eyes are as blue as the water he once sailed and he looks forward to spending time near the sea.

"We miss the salt water beaches and salty air," he said.

Whether he and Gail are vacationing in Hawaii, on the beaches of Waikiki, or in San Diego, Hill takes pleasure standing on the beach, feeling this feet in the sand as the sunsets behind the Pacific. Hill is glad to be on land, to be grounded.

"I watch the ships leave and know I don't have to be on it," he said.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 28, 2013 11:19AM Published Feb 28, 2013 11:17AM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.