“When I was a child and would give my mom a kiss on the cheek, I’d have to give my dad a kiss on the cheek as well, because I didn’t want anybody’s feelings to be hurt,” she recalls.
Now the general counsel and chief compliance officer for Appreciation Financial, a national, full-service retirement planning and life insurance agency based in Henderson, Nevada that has close to one thousand agents and offices in almost every state, Marcus finds that ingrained passion for ensuring that everyone feels justly treated comes in handy. Hailing from a family of lawyers and legal experts, one would assume that her career path may have been a foregone conclusion, but she says she had to discover for herself that it was the career she wanted.
“I attended law school four years after I finished my undergraduate studies because I wasn’t sure I wanted to become a lawyer,” she remembers. “I worked in marketing, sales, and held administrative positions at several law firms, and it was working with the law where I ultimately felt most at home. It just made sense to me.”
Her early legal career included a concentration on criminal defense practice and, ultimately, areas of civil litigation such as copyright infringement, which found her working with high-profile musicians. Most notably, she worked on a precedent-setting case where the clients she represented won the underlying case as well as the appeal. The outcome changed the landscape of musical copyright infringement law.
Despite finding success in this arena, after about six years in litigation, she says she felt her skills weren’t being put to their best use. “I was in search of a way to continue my practice of law while also being able to use my ability to communicate and negotiate, more specifically my people skills,” she says. “I realized that I wanted to be with the client on the front lines, collaborating and helping to make decisions. Instead, I spent most of my days doing legal research and writing motions. While this was important work, it left me feeling unfulfilled.”
She continues, “I proceeded to scour legal job platforms, have lunch with general counsel and executives, and learn everything about what it is to be a general counsel. I discovered how it differed from litigation practice in all the ways I was looking for.
“Working as a lawyer representing a business seemed to be the perfect marriage of practicing law and working directly with people. After achieving this clarity of purpose, I was connected to Appreciation Financial’s CEO, Terry Kennedy.” When Marcus took the job, Appreciation didn’t have its own in-house counsel on staff, relying solely on outside counsel, as is common in the financial services industry. Stepping into an undefined role, Marcus essentially had to “create everything from scratch” to build infrastructure to support both legal and compliance work. She found early on that there was much to do.
While she was building a previously nonexistent legal infrastructure from the bottom up, Marcus also had to be careful not to impede the growth of a company that was bringing in an increasing amount of revenue and clientele. This was a tricky balancing act between introducing oversight and compliance without changing too much too quickly.
“There were definitely areas that needed retrofitting, because the company growth was exponential in such a short period of time,” she recalls. “I’m proud of the fact that sales experienced substantial increases during this period, proving that the work to build the legal infrastructure didn’t slow the business side down at all. This was a sizable accomplishment and the adjustment process was very smooth for both the agents and the employees.”
In fact, in 2018, Appreciation ranked 1,583rd on INC.5000’s list of Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America, and Kennedy won a 2019 Gold Stevie American Business Award for Entrepreneur of the Year for Financial Services. Kennedy was also a finalist for the 2019 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
“I feel strongly that in order for a company to thrive, there must be a core of justice and fairness on which it is built. This core then becomes the baseline of expectations to adhere to and uphold.”
Throughout the period of establishing the legal department within Appreciation Financial, Marcus says she had to remain cognizant of how to keep things palatable for the existing agents and employees. That’s where her long-imbued sense of fairness came into play.
“We all work with people that we love and others that we wouldn’t even want to sit next to on a thirty-minute flight. That said, I pride myself on treating both groups of people the same,” she says. “Whether it’s a brand-new agent or one of our top earners, business is business. I’ve made so many good friends over the years here, but no one receives any special treatment.
“I feel strongly that in order for a company to thrive, there must be a core of justice and fairness on which it is built. This core then becomes the baseline of expectations to adhere to and uphold. People thrive under stability, and it is my greatest duty to ensure that our agents feel supported. This way, they can focus on doing what is most important—helping our clients and providing for their families.”
Aside from ensuring everyone at Appreciation Financial gets a fair shake, Marcus is working to promote this belief system beyond the office walls. Appreciation Financial encourages fidelity to its mantra to “give back in the communities we serve” through interaction with schools across the nation, which includes everything from makeovers to revitalization projects for local schools in need. The agents and employees roll up their sleeves and give back, and Kennedy himself is always on hand to participate in the effort. Kennedy, on behalf of Appreciation Financial, makes a monetary donation to the school as well.
In addition, furthering the company’s mission of “helping clients make and save money,” Appreciation has immersed itself in a new program called “What Are You Doing After School?” This program is designed for teachers to help fill in the income gaps in their pensions that they suffer upon retirement.
“Essentially what happens is when a teacher retires, quite often they do so with only 57 percent of the money they were making, so at the end of their career there’s close to a 40 percent gap,” Marcus explains. “‘What Are You Doing After School?’ provides teachers and public employees the opportunity to work part-time to add to the income they are already accruing through the savings vehicles our agents provide. This additional income will help to further close that gap upon retirement, so that these community heroes don’t have to live with that deficit. We’ve helped tens of thousands of teachers and look forward to helping many more.”
Getting to provide that kind of boost on a daily basis is something Marcus relishes. “I believe it to be my duty to help people when they feel like no one else has their back,” she says. “I like to be the person that will stand up for the little guy, and I will always make sure I do my very best to correct any injustice that I see.”