After 36 years of helping clients plan for their financial goals and prepare for retirement, Steve Koch made a transition of his own last year when he sold his financial planning practice, Koch, Sylvia and Associates, to a longtime business partner.

click to enlarge Q&A with Steven Koch

Koch is also known for his extensive community involvement, and says he plans to volunteer even more now that he is retired. He has helped finance several builds for Habitat for Humanity homeowners and also likes to be hands-on during the construction process. In 2021, Koch was honored with the Good as Gold’s Distinguished Volunteer Award for his work with Habitat for Humanity – Sangamon County and currently serves as the board president.

A parishioner of St. Joseph the Worker Church, Koch credits his faith with motivating him to give back. He and his wife, Jodie, live in Chatham and have four grown children.

Where were you born and raised, and how did that influence the rest of your life?

I was born in Highland, Illinois. Highland was a small, rural but also economically thriving type of community. Those small-town values were instilled in me by my parents, and my parents had a very great work ethic.

What was your first job, and how did you decide on a career path?

I was cutting grass in junior high, I worked at the city cemetery for a couple of summers and I was a dishwasher and busboy for a couple of years at a well-known restaurant in Grant Fork, Illinois, called Diamond Mineral Springs.

After I graduated from University of Illinois with a degree in political science, I managed Senator Frank Watson's campaign; he was the state senator from southwestern Illinois. I traveled with then-Secretary of State Jim Edgar for about a year doing his scheduling and advance work. I did personnel work for the secretary of state and legislative liaison work for the Illinois Lottery. Then I went back and managed Senator Watson's campaign again.

I returned to Springfield to look for other career opportunities. I decided to pursue a career in financial advising, and I started that in April 1986.

How did the financial planning business change during the 36 years in which you were involved?

Most of it was technology-driven. The amount of information that we used to have available pales compared to what is available today at our fingertips. The execution and speed of processing all of our work and transactions has definitely quickened with computerization.

What is the best retirement advice you gave to clients, and are you following that advice yourself now?

I always advised people to think about when they would like to consider retiring, and then we would help people determine what amount of money they would need to be financially independent, which is defined as when work is optional and retirement lifestyle is affordable.

I also learned to provide psychological help to prepare people for retirement, to have them think about what they would like to do in retirement. That, to me, is just as important as the financial side.

I feel fortunate and blessed to have practiced what I preached. I was always a disciplined investor and saver; I lived within my means and was financially responsible. I also wasn't sure when I would like to retire or what that would look like, because helping my clients was a very big part of my life and I very much enjoyed it. I had the luxury of going from working five days a week to four, then three days a week. For me, that gradual transition was really helpful.

When and why did you become involved in your numerous charitable activities?

A lot of it is biblical. I consider myself to be a religious person, one who likes giving back. I like helping people, that's definitely part of my nature. Whether it be financially or with some of my talents, I have always been motivated to make my community, my country and the world a better place for all of us to live.

What is it about Habitat for Humanity that inspires your continued financial and volunteer contributions?

I like the concept of a hand up and not a handout. There are some people in our society who cannot take care of themselves, so they definitely need a handout. But Habitat emphasizes a hand up by making homeownership more affordable.

How does it make you feel when you see someone move into a Habitat home?

I'm an emotional person, and I cry with joy. The greatest part of my involvement with Habitat is at a dedication when you can see the accomplishment and the work that so many volunteers have done. The pride that the recipients have, because they have committed at least 250 hours of their own time in order to make their home a reality. I'm a firm believer that you only appreciate those things in life that you've worked hard for.

click to enlarge Q&A with Steven Koch
Steve Koch with homeowner Rhonda Davis, center, and Habitat executive director Colleen Stone, at the dedication for Habitat build 114 in 2021.

What advice would you give to young people who are entering the career field today?

You've got to work hard. I know there's that adage – work smarter, not harder – but at the end of the day it's like anything in life, if you want to accomplish something you need to put in the time, the energy and the work that's necessary to be successful. There's no sugar-coating that. The persistence, the work ethic, the loyalty to your employer – a person still needs to have those qualities in any capacity.

What may people be surprised to learn about you?

I'm probably more of a fun-loving and emotional person than some people realize. I'm not all business or seriousness.

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