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How This RIA Customizes Portfolios for its Clients

By Crucial Clips     August 8, 2018
The following text is a transcript of a portion of a speaker's presentation made at an industry conference or during an interview. This transcript solely represents the view of the individual who spoke, and not the view of Financial Advisor IQ or any other group.
Source: FA-IQ, Jun. 28, 2018 

RITA RAAGAS DE RAMOS, SPECIAL PROJECT MANAGER, FA-IQ: I'm Rita Raagas De Ramos from Financial Advisor IQ, and with me is Michael Weissman, director of investment advisory and principal at Aspiriant.

Your firm offers clients what you call 100% investments that are client-driven and true customization. What exactly do you mean by that and how do you go about achieving this?

MICHAEL WEISSMAN, DIRECTOR OF INVESTMENT ADVISORY AND PRINCIPAL, ASPIRIANT: Yeah, it really starts with getting to the clients and understanding what their goals and objectives are. So by going through that process of talking with the clients initially, over time gathering information, and really knowing what they're looking for and their concerns, we can build out a financial plan and build something that's customized toward what they are looking for. And that can vary in a number of ways, depending on their situation.

So let me give a few examples for you. Many of our clients are still actively working, and depending on their employment situation, they may have concentrated stock positions. They typically will have 401(k) plans, maybe deferred compensation and pension. And many of those things are things that have nothing to do with the investment portfolio that we'll ultimately be advising them on, but understanding those things, particularly pensions for people approaching retirement, are very important when we start to think about how we want to build an investment policy for the client.

RITA RAAGAS DE RAMOS: So what are the challenges that you face when you're building a portfolio that's that highly customized?

MICHAEL WEISSMAN: Yeah. I think really the big challenge is understanding those different parameters that affect the client's situation. Let me talk to the pension. That's a specific one. So if a client has the good fortune of being with a company that's got a pension plan, and that's going to provide a significant amount of their income in retirement, they're going to be looking very differently at their outside investments.

And when they come to the end in making a decision on that pension, many times they're deciding between a lump sum pension and getting a life annuity. And depending on their age and their health, those decisions can vary pretty dramatically. And coming back to the portfolio, if you are ultimately going to take a lump sum and it's a significant piece of your retirement spending, and that is going to come at the date of retirement, you can be a lot more aggressive with your portfolio and the assets that you have, knowing that you might be receiving an amount equal to or greater than that you're investing with today. So it's those types of decisions that become real important for customizing things.

RITA RAAGAS DE RAMOS: I notice that the client servicing section of your website has a graphic of a child hugging a dog, and in the staff profiles you have non-work information like the most influential book that you've read. Could you talk a little bit about how your company is run, the corporate culture, how you work together, and how this transfers on to client servicing?

MICHAEL WEISSMAN: Sure. A lot of it does start with the corporate culture and the core values that we have. And one of the ones that I'll talk to here is that all clients are clients of the firm. And I think that is very different when you look across the different investment firms that are out there. So we really want to bring the best thinking of all our people in the investment strategy and research group, in the planning group, we want to bring that best thinking out to all of our clients.

So part of what we're doing that's a little bit different than others is we're meeting in committees, we're sharing that information across the advisor group, and we're trying to deliver that consistency across the client base. And when it comes to building out the teams for those clients, we can draw from different regions within the firm or different specialties. So we bring our best resources to help the clients' situations.

RITA RAAGAS DE RAMOS: Client servicing is such a buzzword in the industry. What makes your approach so different?

MICHAEL WEISSMAN: I think part of what you get with that team approach is consistency. We've got consistency in terms of delivering services to clients and the advisors that we're working with. One thing we do have is broad-based ownership in our firm. So across over 180 employees, we have 60 owners in the group. So many of the more seasoned advisors are going to be owners that are here for the long term. And when you're building relationships over time with a team that's in place, it gives you a big advantage over other firms.

RITA RAAGAS DE RAMOS: Thank you, Michael.

MICHAEL WEISSMAN: Thank you, Rita.