NAPFA 2024 Award Recipients

NAPFA is thrilled to honor a distinguished group of professionals and firms with its prestigious 2024 awards. These individuals and organizations exemplify the standards of excellence and commitment that NAPFA promotes in the field of Fee-Only financial planning.

Robert J. Underwood Distinguished Service Award

Janet Briaud, CFP®

Janet has been a pioneering force in the fee-only financial planning community since launching her career in 1986. She came to the US from Canada in 1978 and as one of the few women in the industry in 1986, she established her practice with a commitment to the fee-only model right from the start. Janet quickly distinguished herself and her firm, based in College Station, Texas, by serving a niche clientele of university professionals—well before having a niche became a widespread strategy in financial planning.

Her influence expanded significantly when she served on the board of directors and then as President and Chair of NAPFA. Through the years she has been invited to lecture to NAPFA members on a wide range of topics including The Economics of Fee-Only Planning, Working in A Niche Market, Estate Planning, and Goal Setting.

In addition to her advocacy work, Janet was instrumental in founding the 20/20 group, a consortium of thought-leading firms known for their size and influence within NAPFA and beyond. This initiative not only fostered collaboration among firms but also enhanced access to alternative assets and private markets, meeting a growing need among sophisticated investors.

Janet's commitment to the advancement of the financial planning profession extended to academia. She tirelessly advocated for financial education at Texas A&M University, her local institution, serving on advisory boards within the finance program. Encouraging others in her firm to get involved with Texas A&M University, especially after the introduction of a financial planning minor (now major as of 2024), her efforts have ensured that the next generation of financial professionals are well-educated and ethically grounded.

Throughout her nearly four decades in the industry, Janet has maintained her maverick streak, continuously exploring new opportunities to enhance her clients' financial well-being. Her dedication and visionary leadership have not only shaped her firm's success but also profoundly influenced the broader landscape of financial planning.

Today, Briaud Financial Advisors is a nationally recognized firm serving a diverse client base and is known for its innovative and forward-thinking approach to personal finance.

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Inspiring Leader Award

Sunit Bhalla, CFP®

Sunit is the founder of OakTree Financial Planning, a fee-only firm based in Fort Collins, Colorado, that provides financial planning and investment management to engineers and other technology professionals.

Sunit received a Master of Science in Personal Financial Planning from the College for Financial Planning, a Master of Science in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts, and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from New Mexico State University. He previously worked as an R&D manager and software developer at Hewlett Packard and Agilent Technologies.

Sunit’s volunteer experience includes serving on the NAPFA National Board, co-leading the NAPFA Solo Conversation Circles, leading the NAPFA Northern Colorado Study Group; serving on several NAPFA committees, including the Leadership Development Committee, the Education committee, and the Audit committee; and speaking at more than fifteen conferences.

He currently is on the Board of Directors at the Food Bank of Larimer County, and he volunteered more than 600 hours in his kids’ classrooms when they were younger.

Sunit and his wife are avid runners and have run three marathons. They also love traveling the world with their kids.

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New Professional Award

Franklin Gay, CFP®, EA

Franklin “Franko” Gay, CFP®, EA joined Tobias Financial Advisors in 2020 and serves as a Wealth Advisor. He earned the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional certification as well as completed the testing requirements to become an Enrolled Agent with the Internal Revenue Service giving him the privilege to represent clients before the IRS. These credentials create a strong foundation in financial planning and taxation that allow Franko to help clients across various planning areas.

Franko takes great pleasure in working with a diverse range of clients, including business owners, executives, pilots, and real estate professionals. With a passion for understanding their unique needs and goals, Franko strives to provide tailored financial strategies and solutions that align with their specific circumstances to help them achieve long-term success.

Born and raised in Central Florida, Franko is a proud alumnus of the University of Central Florida from which he graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in finance. While pursuing his degree, Franklin also concurrently attended Bryant University’s financial planning certificate program. Being an avid learner, he is currently working toward earning his MBA in Process Improvement at Nova Southeastern University, as he is passionate about business operations and optimization of daily procedures.

Before joining Tobias Financial Advisors, Franko worked in a boutique wealth management and financial planning firm in which he assisted the principal of the firm in developing financial plans for over 120 clients in 14 states.

Franko is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), where he also serves as the President of the South Region Board of Directors. Franko often attends their conferences, creating connections with like-minded financial professionals as well as offering mentorship for the young generation of financial planners. Franko is also passionate about business operations and process improvement. He serves as a Chair of the South Florida Student Chapter for the American Society of Quality. In this role, he works on engaging current students, alumni and prospective students on the substantial contribution that an education in process improvement can make in people’s professional lives through the organization of educational and social events.

In his spare time, you will find Franko fishing, kayaking, and enjoying the beautiful, sunny South Florida weather with his loved ones.

Quote from Franko: There is so much more to money than just numbers, there is real sacrifice behind each and every dollar saved. To be entrusted by clients to act as their guide through markets, tax legislation, and overwhelming emotion is a real privilege that I keep at the forefront of my mind while building these lifelong relationships.”

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Special Achievement Award

Nikki Palluzzi, CAE

Nikki Palluzzi, CAE, is a seasoned association executive professional with over 17 years of experience. She spent the first ten years of her career at SmithBucklin, working primarily with leadership and volunteer programs in technology user groups. In 2015, she moved to the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), where her focus was primarily on membership engagement and recruitment, DEI efforts, and volunteer management. During her time at NAPFA, membership grew over 75%, but she's most proud of the programming she created for diverse groups within the association. As of December of 2023, Nikki is the Director of Membership & Customer Engagement at the Institute for Food Technologists (IFT) where she’s focused on creating a connected and positive member experience for the food science community.

Nikki's passion is for creating inclusive, collaborative communities, and to that end, she has been an active Association Forum volunteer for several years. She currently serves as their Chair for the Member Engagement Committee. Nikki also serves as the Vice President of the Board of her children's elementary school fundraising organization, and coaches youth soccer on the weekend. She lives in Chicago with her family, and spends her spare time running, reading, and cooking for her friends and family.

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Excellence in DEI Award – Solo Firm

Xena Financial Planning

Xena Financial Planning was founded in 2020 by Danika Waddell. The firm is based in Seattle but is fully virtual and serves clients throughout the US. They primarily work with women in the tech industry who care deeply about their impact on the world. They offer ongoing financial planning to people in their early to mid-careers, either with or without investment management.

Danika is passionate about making financial planning and advice more accessible to people who have typically been excluded by our industry. One of the company’s core values is inclusivity (along with respect) and she has placed DEI efforts at the forefront as she builds the firm. Team members spend time volunteering in their local communities and are encouraged to join organizations that promote diversity in our industry, such as AAAA (Association of African-American Financial Advisors) and FPA Latino.

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Ballast Point Financial Planning has been awarded the Excellence in DEI Award – Mid-Sized Firm, awarded for their effective initiatives in fostering an inclusive environment that values diversity at every level of their organization.

Excellence in DEI Award – Large Firm

Tobias Financial Advisors

Our story begins back in 1980 when Benjamin Tobias founded our firm as an accounting and tax practice that supported local business owners and professionals. Over the years Ben realized his clients did not receive unbiased and integrated financial advice. Ben was an early adopter of the fee-only model, meaning he removed commissions from our business to help ensure that we always acted in our clients' best interests, and that's a value that still drives us today - we're committed to doing what's right for our clients, plain and simple. In 2017, a new chapter began at Tobias Financial Advisors with Marianela Collado and Mathew Saneholtz acquiring 100% ownership of the firm, with Marianela taking on the role of CEO. Under their guidance, the firm has expanded its reach and continues to provide exceptional fee-only financial planning and investment management services to over 330 clients, including individuals, families, and business owners.

We are driven by a clear vision – to inspire, educate, and prepare our clients so they can live the lives they want, and as such we are always willing to flex depending on the client’s specific needs and goals. Our values emerged as a reflection of this vision and of our collective beliefs and aspirations, and they drive how we interact with clients, employees, other professionals, and the broader community. We sought integrity as the cornerstone of our actions, client commitment as the driving force behind our service, passion to infuse our work with enthusiasm and dedication, balance to foster well-roundedness in our approach, transparency to establish trust, teamwork to leverage our combined expertise, community to extend our impact beyond ourselves, and family to create a supportive and nurturing environment. These values resonate with us on a personal level, and they are deeply ingrained in our firm’s DNA, shaping every decision we make and every relationship we nurture.

We are an independent firm, giving us the freedom to partner with many of the strongest financial institutions in our industry. This allows us to find the best solutions that align with our clients’ unique needs and aspirations. We go beyond mere investments and take a holistic approach to clients’ financial well-being. We believe in building long-term partnerships with our clients, spanning not only their current financial needs but also extending to future generations, ensuring our support and guidance endure for years to come.

We believe that the wealth equation is simple: increase or keep more of what comes in and reduce what goes out. And that's where our expertise in financial planning, investment strategies, estate planning, and tax planning comes in.

At Tobias Financial Advisors, we have a diverse and passionate team of professionals with varied backgrounds, experience, and expertise. All of our lead planners are Certified Financial Planner professionals and are held to high standards. We carefully match our advisors to our clients, ensuring that we create a strong alignment and understanding of your unique needs. Our advisors don’t work alone. They are supported by a team of planning, client service, operations, tax, and investment professionals who jointly come together to develop and implement planning strategies.

Our team is the heart and soul of our firm. With roots spanning eight different countries and fluency in five languages, our team members bring a wealth of unique perspectives, experiences, and expertise. This diversity is not only reflected within our team but also in our client base, as we serve individuals from various parts of the world.

One of our greatest strengths lies in the combination of experience and youth within our team. With professionals who bring decades of industry knowledge and emerging talents who offer fresh perspectives, we have the unique ability to adapt to the evolving needs of our clients. This blend of experience and youth positions us to serve clients effectively for decades to come.

We specialize in serving business owners, busy professionals, and senior executives who are passionate about achieving financial success. We enjoy supporting clients that are experiencing important transitions in their lives, such as a divorce, sale of a business, major promotion or other circumstances. We thrive on helping individuals who are seeking a trusted advisor to navigate the complexities of wealth management. Whether to grow your investments, protect your assets, or plan for retirement, we have the expertise to guide you every step of the way.

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NAPFA Foundation Pro Bono Service Award

Lisa Neira, CFP®

Lisa is a Wealth Advisor in our Morristown, NJ, office. Lisa joined legacy firm RegentAtlantic in 2021, bringing over 15 years of experience in wealth management and providing financial advice to high-net-worth individuals and families. She advises clients on financial planning, tax planning and investment management to help them achieve their financial goals leading up to and through retirement. Lisa specializes in working with LGBTQIA+ clients and their families, and understands the unique financial challenges this community generally faces. She also serves as a LGBTQIA+ planning resource to other advisors across the firm. She is a featured speaker and has been quoted in financial news media, including Asset TV, Barron’s Advisor and InvestmentNews. Lisa holds the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification. She graduated from Richard Stockton School of New Jersey, earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Studies with a concentration in finance and economics. Prior to joining RegentAtlantic, Lisa was a VP, Wealth Planner at Fidelity Investments. Lisa resides in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, with her wife, Mindy Neira and their daughter Jackson. She enjoys traveling, cooking for her family, running around with her puppy, Avery, and watching her favorite sports teams. She is an avid fan of the Nets, Jets and Yankees.

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