Do you know Atlas?
You have heard the story of Atlas, right? The Titan who Zeus tasked with holding the weight of the world on his shoulders. Incredible core strength aside, Atlas was a skilled philosopher and mathematician. Some credit the god with discovering astronomy, the original Global Positioning System. Sailors relied on the stars to navigate the often-volatile waters for thousands of years. Erik the Red, Ferdinand Magellan, Blackbeard, and countless others depended on Atlas to guide them safely to their final destination. It makes me think of our business – the journey we have gone through as a firm, our role in the industry, and how we educate and navigate our clients down a path targeting their unique life goals. Maybe there is more to the story of Atlas Private Wealth Management than you realized…
The Real Atlas – Three Brains Are Stronger Than One
I am coming up on the completion of my first decade with Atlas. When I started as a Sales Representative in 2011, we were Dion Money Management, LLC (DMM). Some may remember the firm, founded in the mid-90s,that partnered with the Fidelity Independent Adviser newsletter series. Both companies worked out of a big blue barn in the foothills of the Green Mountains of Vermont; a stone’s throw from Williams College. The basement of The Barn was home to a massive printer that cost more than my vehicle at the time. The newsletter helped do-it-yourself investors manage their portfolios. We did the research, we built the models, and grew a subscriber base throughout the nation that followed them. While this was effective for some, there was still something missing for many. Maybe they overlooked a recommended portfolio change; managing your family’s life-savings can be a roller coaster of emotions, or they may have wanted a professional to lean on and talk through both investment strategies, and the big financial decisions that come up in life. From here, the newsletter business evolved into a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) with over $800-million under management by the mid-2000s.
Fast forward to 2013, a major transitional year for DMM. The question we posed to ourselves, “how do we provide our clients with clarity and peace of mind in their journey ahead?” – the answer… there is no simple solution. Every situation differs from one to the next. In understanding one’s financial future, we wanted to prepare clients for and guide them through the milestones and obstacles that come up in life – managing debt, saving for major purchases, retirement, filing for Medicare and Social Security, as well as transitioning assets to their heirs. We hoped to guide our clients just as Atlas guided the world’s great explorers. We were seasoned in portfolio construction and investment strategy, but were in search of more planning expertise. Enter Albany Financial Planners (AFP) based in New York. A firm with 30-years of experience in comprehensive financial planning. The founders, and guiding lights, were preparing for their own succession planning. Sewing up their legacy plan and putting AFP’s clients in the hands of a trusted successor were paramount considerations in finding a partner. The merger of those two worlds could not have made more sense. At the beginning of 2014, DMM and AFP combined forces and rebranded as Atlas Private Wealth Management, LLC.
In the years to follow, we integrated our different cultures. Financial plans served as a client’s road map to success, while investment management executed on the framework outlined in those plans. Along the way, we made many great additions to our team – a Director of Tax Planning, a Director of Financial Planning, a growing team of advisors including several CFPs, a Director of Trust and Estate Planning, and a Director of Retirement Services, as well as a network of professional referrals (e.g. estate attorneys, life and long-term care insurance advisors, Medicare professionals, etc.). Along with a 2019 merger with Bullard, McLeod & Associates, Inc. (BMA). Another almost 40-year firm. BMA helped the Atlas Portfolio Management Group implement an actively managed individual stock strategy, which we are now able to offer our clients.
The wonderful additions we made to our team have made us the firm we are today – more than $1-billion under management and the ability to fulfill our clients’ planning and investment needs. A boutique one-stop-shop and trusted voice, different from the likes of the corporate sales machines clients see far too often.
Who Is Paying Your Advisor?
You should be aware that not all financial professionals are fiduciaries. What is a fiduciary? An individual or institution that is required to put the client’s interest ahead of their own. In our case, as a Registered Investment Advisor, we are held to a fiduciary standard, seeking to manage assets with integrity and transparency. Even with recent Department of Labor changes establishing a “Best Interest” standard for brokers, many financial professionals still are not held to the fiduciary standard which puts a client’s interest ahead of their own.
It is important to understand how any financial professional you are considering doing business with is paid. Would you seek to hire a doctor commissioned to prescribe certain drugs or treatments? No, your doctor should ideally remain an unbiased health service provider and only prescribe the healing medication you need. The same could be said for a financial advisor. An investment manager who receives compensation from third-parties for holding certain securities may have a tendency to recommend the purchase of those securities first or at a higher frequency than others. Similarly, broker/dealer representatives often collect a commission based on activity and/or securities sold. This information is NOT to say all of these individuals are bad, and as noted regulations have been implemented to mitigate some of these concerns. However, the existence of these conflicts is something investors should be aware of.
Investors should know how those whom they have hired and are responsible for managing their wealth are making money, the fees incurred with each product/service, and whether or not their manager accepts revenue outside of the client-advisor relationship. I believe the most effective way to do that is by working with a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor; a fiduciary paid for the services they provide by the individual(s) receiving those services. At Atlas we do not receive sales or trading commissions, which reduces conflicts of interest between us and our clients. It is our opinion that it is in a client’s interest for a client-advisor partnership to have aligned interests (e.g. advisor revenue rising and falling with the value of clients’ portfolios). Contrary to a sales brokerage style of management, Atlas seeks to have an on-going collaboration with their clients. They are to serve as a guide seeking to help grow clients’ asset-base; and be a resource for you and your family to lean on, with a potential goal of creating generational wealth.
Giving Your Investments the Attention They Deserve
Many make the decision to work with a financial professional due to busy schedules, expertise, and/or a lack of interest prevents them from giving their investments the attention they require. Simply put, life gets in the way. Just because your personal world is buzzing, does not mean your financial well-being needs to fall by the wayside. Managing a portfolio requires maintenance – monitoring economic indicators, security research, and selection, as well as building a properly diversified asset allocation with the appropriate tactical weightings. It is our role to help our clients with this responsibility.
A major benefit of working with a financial planner/advisor is the review of your accounts/finances. Your advisor and support team, Atlas’ Investment Committee and the Portfolio Management Group (PMG), are all involved with your accounts in one way or another. John C. Ogle, Atlas’ Chief Investment Officer and the rest of the Portfolio Management Group are responsible for researching and reviewing the numerous mutual funds, ETFs, individual stocks, and bonds available. PMG considers metrics such as expense ratios, active share, upside/downside capture, management tenure, core or tactical role within the portfolio, as well as many other factors. From there, PMG works with the Atlas Investment Committee to build strategies of varying risk. It is then your advisor’s responsibility to communicate with you on your financial needs, goals, and plans for the future. As we interpret your situation, we discuss recommendations and align our clients with an appropriate investment strategy. All of the aforementioned departments then work together on your investments both for your life goals/needs, as well as the current and future economic conditions.
Navigating volatile times can be a difficult task. Information is exchanged easier and more quickly than ever before. It is changing the world around us at a rapid pace. Your investments need to be able to handle these ups-and-downs. At Atlas, we use what we like to call a Core-and-Satellite approach to asset allocation. In this strategy, Modern Portfolio Theory is used to build the portfolio’s foundation. On the satellite end, we deploy tactical sector weightings based on where we perceive the U.S. and the rest of the world to be in the business cycle. During periods of slowing growth and/or recession, we may elect to use historically defensive market sectors (e.g. healthcare, consumer staples, and utilities). Whereas during times of recovery and expansion, we may lean more heavily on cyclical and sensitive industries (e.g. technology, industrials, financials, consumer discretionary, etc.). While this is an actively managed strategy and is not simply buy-and-hold, we are also not day-trading or churning accounts. We view our role as investors, not traders.
Institutional Investing – The Difference From Retail
We pride ourselves on a client-centric focus. The big broker-houses that many, individuals or businesses, work with are in the business of buying-and-selling securities. It is a necessary business in the industry, even for us, as we do not hold client assets. Nevertheless, how often does the custodian think about the specifics of a client situation, like Mr. and Mrs. Smith who plan to retire at 62 and need to put Timmy and Judy through 4-years of undergrad?
The big brokers can see dollars – the more you have the more valuable your business may be viewed. So how do Mr. & Mrs. Smith go from being a small fish in a big pond to a bigger fish in the same pond? They work with a Registered Investment Advisor. Working with an RIA, like Atlas, The Smiths go from being retail clients to being an institutional investor in an important sense. Now under the Atlas umbrella, they are a much larger client in the eyes our custodians. This opens the doors to a wider universe of securities – higher share classes, reduced expense ratios, various fees able to be waived, etc. – as well as independent economic and market research that may not be accessible to individual investors. Under this arrangement, the custodian holds assets and offers securities for investment – and Atlas does what we are good at – focusing on the client, their financial plan, and their investment strategy.
The Planning Angle – Do Not Lose Track
Investors often want to feel like they have a leg-up or an angle to their investment game. While a thought out strategy is important, the secret sauce is in the planning. The get rich quick schemes you hear about are most often gimmicks. Everyone’s situation is different, and we all should have a plan reflective of our own circumstances. A financial plan is not a one-time static event. It should grow with you over time and be reviewed and updated. When building a financial plan for our clients, we initiate a client portal that allows a client a view of their information updated daily. Using this platform, clients create a link between the portal and their various financial institutions (e.g. banks, investments, credit cards, mortgages, etc.); they are also able to set financial goals for the future. When a client portal is utilized to its full potential, this technology becomes a living and breathing financial plan that is continuously updated with a client’s financial activity. So we are not just helping you map the journey, we are giving guidance to help keep you on the right routes.
Now, You Know Atlas
At the end of the day, what really sets your advisor/team apart are the people you are working with. Not just the CRPCs®, CFPs®, and CPAs, but the people beneath the titles. Who they are and why they do what they do. All of the team members at Atlas have a story. Some coming from humble beginnings, others having generational experience in managing wealth. Regardless, each of us has chosen to make our clients’ financial well-being a priority in our lives. We may not take on the weight of the world, like Atlas the Titan, but we do join arms with our clients to bear the financial load as a trusted advisor and partner.
Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM and CRPC® are trademarks or registered service marks of the College for Financial Planning in the United States and/or other countries.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design), and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it authorizes use of by individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.