In the fall of 2022, portraits of financial advisors started popping up all over Twitter. The images were bold, oversaturated, high-contrast digital outlines of well-known financial advisors with a white strip going across the eyes.
“It meant that the person is very transparent of their role, their job, and their fees,” said John Passler, the artist behind the portraits.
Known as the FinArtist, Passler is a former advisor who now makes his living creating art for wealth management firms.
Passler always had a love of art growing up, but as an adult he turned to finance. In 2014, he started working in the investor services call center at TD Ameritrade, before working his way up to the role of financial consultant to an advisor. He then spent four years working at the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America and College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) before deciding to transition into the RIA space.
“I wanted to become a little bit more independent, just because I felt like I was missing a lot. I felt like I wasn’t being able to utilize all my strengths within the big brokers and insurance companies,” Passler said.
He saw art as a way to market himself within the broader finance network. He started following a bunch of Fintwit influencers and popular advisors, and he would tweet out drawings and graphics he created to illustrate financial concepts.
The concept of financial art wasn’t new to Passler. While he was still working at TIAA, he would often draw out simple financial concepts for clients. “People are not going to read a full page of words and fully understand it. So, I would just create like just very small graphics on Canva,” he said.
“But what really took off for me were these portraits,” Passler said. “I was trying to say ‘Hey, if you know of any RIA that’s hiring, or that’s looking for a financial planner — because you have such a big audience and you have so many people that are following you — can you retweet this photo and have my name and mention that I’m looking to join an RIA?’”
As he gained even more traction, Passler decided to sell his art as a side hustle.
“People kept asking, like, ‘Where are these photos coming from? This is a crypto thing? Is this an NFT thing?’” Passler said. “And I always said ‘No, no, no, this has nothing to do with that.’ And people kept telling me like, ‘You got to sell these. You have to sell them.’ So, I decided to sell them at a very low price of $25.”
In the first five months, Passler said he created more than 120 portraits. Two months into the drawings, Passler decided to go all in as the FinArtist.
“I was like, ‘This has taken off. It’s paying the bills. I’m having a lot of fun. I can do this like 10 hours a day.’ In fact, I was making art like 10 hours a day at that point. And I loved every second of it. I still do. I love every second of it. But it’s evolved, and it keeps evolving,” Passler said.
Wanting to meet people face to face, Passler decided to go to an XY Planning Network advisor conference, where he tweeted out portraits that he created of sessions. “They had no idea I was doing it, but the next three conferences asked me and paid for me to come to the conferences to create these portraits,” he said.
One year later, Passler is just as passionate as ever about art and finance, but his art, his business, his brand, and his prices have all evolved.
Portraits now take up a lot less of his time, as he’s moved on to illustrations and brand identity. Passler has created logos and branding for everything from financial podcasts to coffee shops.
In July, he soft-launched a four-tiered subscription service for illustrations called FinDesign.
The beginning tier costs $99 per month and allows members to request up to 10 design templates a month. At the top is a premium tier that costs $1,499 per month and includes 20 templates and 15 custom illustrations.
Passler said that his experience in finance and as an advisor gives him an edge in creating appropriate designs.
“They don’t have to explain what the concepts are or how we should illustrate them. For the advisor, planner, or RIA that’s hiring me, they just need to explain how they want it to look. So it makes their jobs a lot easier,” said Passler. “I want to make art that goes against the industry’s norms. To really just to brighten up the room, the space, and to bring more light and color and art into this industry and make clients feel comfortable.”
Although Passler still maintains his registration as an advisor, he doubts he’ll ever go back to advising.
“I feel like I’m fulfilling what I was meant to do. The universe has taken me in a certain direction. And though I can’t see it yet, it hasn’t happened yet, I feel like my art will inspire something great in the future. That sounds very conceited. I get that. But, I do think I can help shape this industry into something where the consumers will not be afraid of it anymore,” he said.