Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer
Case Eichenberger grew up in a small, rural village of 223 people in southeast Nebraska. Each day, his father drove him nine miles over country roads to a nearby town where he went to school in the same red brick building from first grade through graduation.
In a small town, “You keep the same friends,” Eichenberger says. “You keep a lot of consistency in your life and build a lot of strong friendships.”
Eichenberger’s father was his high school science teacher, and his mother worked at the local bank, a small, well-maintained building with a pretty flower box out front that sits on the same quiet street as a one-room library, a matchstick-box post office, and a row of gutted-out former storefronts. It’s the story of every small Nebraska town – the industry that once sustained it has long moved on, and only the most basic services remain.
Today, as Client Portfolio Manager at CLS Investments in Omaha, Eichenberger has a job he never imagined existed. “We don’t grow up in a small town knowing that [we] want to be managing people’s portfolios,” he says with a laugh. “That was definitely not a thought in my head when I was growing up.
But Eichenberger has since embraced the industry he discovered, and he applies a passion for relationship building that fits seamlessly with his small-town heritage. It’s what he loves most about what he does.
Born to a long line of school teachers, Eichenberger had always known he wanted to do something different.
“I didn’t know specifically what I wanted to do,” he says, “but I knew business was really what I wanted to focus on.”
So after high school, he headed north to Midland University, a private liberal arts college in Fremont, Nebraska, where he studied business and got a job as a bank teller. When it was time to graduate, the bank’s in-house financial advisor referred him to CLS in Omaha.
As a kid, driving 52 miles to the state capitol of Lincoln was the closest experience Eichenberger had to city life. So when he made the move to Nebraska’s largest city (a metro area with just under one million people), it was an adjustment. “Not that I wasn’t involved in the real world,” he says, “but it’s a lot different in a big city for sure.”
With a start in customer service at CLS, Eichenberger quickly moved up to sales. But once he began diving deeper into financial data and analysis, he realized his true calling: portfolio management. His position now – newly created – is the face of the portfolio management team to the sales team.
The sales background helps him in his new position, he says, but it’s more than that. “I know how sales people talk; I know how advisors talk and how they listen,” he says. “I know how to communicate what we’re doing on the portfolio side and how to break that down and make it understandable to advisors.”
Talking to people is what he loves most about the position, and he hopes he can expand his role to a “traveling portfolio manager” in the future.
“What I like so much is just connecting with [advisors] and really learning from them,” he says. “Growing up in a small town and a small community, you make really close friends for a lifetime. You learn how to truly value a friendship and relationship with those you connect with. This translates to the business world also.”
Eichenberger is motivated to keep learning and improving, he says, and loves that his chosen industry still contains a wealth of knowledge to acquire. “I definitely accept it as a challenge.”
What might be a little more challenging is explaining his work to family and friends back home who imagine him as a movie-style Wall Street financier playing the stock market. “They just think of the market as trying to get rich quick,” he says with a laugh. “People are always asking me ‘What stocks are high? What stocks should I buy?’ But, at CLS, we don’t gamble in the stock market. We invest in long-term future gains to get investors to retirement.
Eichenberger has been able to use some of his sales skills to persuade his parents to diversify from their standard 401K and seek the help of a financial advisor. “They think of one mutual fund or a couple mutual funds – not even knowing what it owns or what kind of risks it’s taking,” he says. “The thing we’re trying to get across is investing for the long term. People blindly throw money into their 401K knowing that it’s long term, but that’s not the only account you should be using for your savings.”
It’s a message that many investors – including those in small, rural towns far from the country’s financial hubs – still find overwhelmingly complex and out of reach. And that’s one thing Eichenberger understands.