FA to Facebook, Google Execs Seeks More Big Names
When you work in a niche that’s known for innovation it makes sense to run a dynamic and forward-looking practice. And when that niche is linked to some of the biggest, most hyper-innovative names in high technology, the imperative is even greater to reflect the milieu in which you operate.
“Tech people think quickly and move quickly,” says Glenda Schmidt, president of Schmidt Financial Group in Kirkland, Wash., a firm that caters to executives of companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google and Facebook.
In this setting, running a “sleepy practice” isn’t even an option, says Schmidt. “You have to get up every morning and be jazzed and ready.”
Keeping on the cutting edge apparently contributed to Schmidt Financial Group’s decision to join Dynasty Financial Partners’ network of freestanding RIAs this month. “Being a tech person myself, I wanted to outsource as much as possible and keep up with technology,” says Schmidt, who spent a decade working in the high tech industry — including stints at IBM and several startups — before becoming a financial advisor and founding her own firm in 1993.
In those early days, being a technology trendsetter in the RIA world meant using “tamp” programs to access third-party investment products.
Now it’s likely to involve a broader take on outsourcing — an approach exemplified by Dynasty’s offerings, Schmidt claims. “Dynasty is more of a consultancy with best-of-breed tools, which include access to a tamp if you want it, as well as the expertise of a community of other firms,” she says.
The independent RIA had three big reasons to outsource. It removes the headaches and risks associated with developing and maintaining in-house technology, and so locks in a degree of operational scale — without which small firms function at significant disadvantage to weightier rivals. Finally, shifting middle- and back-office work to outside vendors frees more hands-on staff to work with clients.
In fact, Schmidt already runs a tight ship in terms of headcount. Her firm, which manages about $300 million, employs her, two other advisors — her son Evan Schmidt and longtime associate Tim Griffith — and a couple of part-time support staffers.
Now with Dynasty in the mix, the firm wants to add assets without issuing more W-2s. How? Mainly by appealing to up-and-comers at the next generation’s Amazons and Googles while holding on to newbies and veterans at the originals.
Though Schmidt knew firsthand the financial planning and investment needs of people in the burgeoning technology sector, she had to work to build her niche in that field.
“I cold-called Microsoft,” says Schmidt. “I set up a coffee meeting and asked about their affinity groups.” In response, Microsoft HR showed her a list of some unofficial klatches at the software giant. “I chose female engineers.”
That led to a series of personal finance talks. In turn those laid the foundation of Schmidt Financial Group’s book of business and a practice built on helping options-rich tech workers strengthen their financial positions through smart planning and diversification. This approach is reflected in the firm’s slogan: “Once a Millionaire, Stay a Millionaire.”
Schmidt’s son is leading the next-gen business development charge — based largely on continuing the company’s long-standing strategy of “adding value through education,” says Schmidt. “Evan is the new business development evangelist for the firm right now."
So, when Los Angeles-based Snap Inc. went public early this year, Schmidt Financial Group was already a name among some newly-minted millionaires there through its tailored education outreach to the firm.
“That was nothing short of exciting,” says the younger Schmidt, who joined his mother’s firm in 2009 after several years as a management consultant with Deloitte. “Now we have a number of Snapchatters as clients,” he adds in a reference to employees in Snap Inc.’s marquee Snapchat social-media division.
More to the point, his mother says her son is “revitalizing the legacy brand, and our clients are really excited about it.”
Consultant James Pollard, an expert on building and defending financial-advice niches, says Schmidt Financial Group seems to be doing things right.
“Occupation niches” — centered on policemen or physicians — are the easiest to keep, says Pollard. And among the hardest are those based on particular companies.
But Pollard thinks Schmidt Financial Group may be on a dual track as it deepens a demonstrable and growing expertise in the distinct financial needs of tech workers without concentrating too much on individual companies.