Aspiriant’s Story: A New Class of Wealth Management Firm
The late 1990s marked a transformative period in the growth of wealth, and subsequently wealth management, in America. The Technology, Media and Telecommunications era was in full swing, and many entrepreneurs and professionals were amassing great fortunes. The number of millionaires grew exponentially.
As a tax partner at Deloitte at the time, I witnessed this emergence of wealth first-hand. Simultaneously, I also saw the planning needs of the clients I served grow substantially.
Back then, my clients were primarily family business owners who decided to sell their enterprises. While I specialized in tax planning, they were asking me for help with a range of services including business valuation, asset management, estate planning and philanthropy. These were large families with a high degree of financial complexity, yet they had no true framework for personal financial decision-making. As they moved from running a business to managing investable assets, they needed a new kind of management team, one with diverse talents that could help them devise a new strategic plan that aligned their life goals with their portfolio.
As I searched for the expertise they needed, I realized there was not one national, independent advisory firm that had all the specialty talent necessary to serve affluent families in one house. Since, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” as the adage goes, I envisioned building such a wealth management firm.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Along the way, I found many kindred spirits who were committed to the same vision. In 2008, Bob Wagman, Marc Primiani, Ken Anderson, Linda Fitz, Tim Kochis and I partnered with several others to create Aspiriant.
Our “why,” our mission
As we entered the new millennium, Aspiriant’s co-founders were working as partners for the country’s most prominent advisors. They also served newly affluent entrepreneurs and executives who needed a high level of support crafting an investment strategy that reflected their personal vision; optimizing complex tax strategies; and integrating financial planning, estate planning, philanthropy and more into one unified view.
These families were asking questions like:
- How do I transfer wealth to my children or grandchildren in a tax-efficient manner?
- What’s the smartest way for me to leave a legacy of giving?
- How should I invest my windfall? Which investment strategy will help me meet my goals five, 10, 25 years from now?
- What should I do with my incentive stock options?
- Should I transition my family business to future generations, sell or go public?
Understanding a client’s goals, objectives, dreams and fears is the key to providing the context necessary for prudent decision-making.
Aspiriant’s mission is to empower families to take control of their financial lives, live their values with clarity and peace of mind, and actualize their dreams. To achieve this, we created a firm that attracts the most talented financial planning and investment management professionals in the industry and makes them committed owners, provides world-class wealth management services, and maximizes continuity and transparency. And that’s the comprehensive wealth management firm we’ve been growing ever since.
We’ve invested a vast amount of thought and energy into structuring a unique company. There are three key reasons why we’re not your usual wealth management firm.
Depth and breadth of advice
Clients love that our wealth managers can call on in-house experts in disciplines such as estate planning, executive compensation, taxes, philanthropy and much more. This allows us to be proactive and integrate critical strategies when our clients need them.
Navigating today’s ultra-complex financial markets takes time, acumen, research and resolve. We’ve assembled an expansive team of investment heavyweights who dive deep into the analysis of the risks and opportunities clients face when managing portfolios. In bull or bear markets, their “steady hand of calm” keeps clients aligned to their financial goals.
Because we’re 100% employee-owned, artificial, short-term performance pressures don’t exist for our people. This allows our talented staff to fully live our values alongside our clients.
Aligning interests inside an enduring ownership model
Our business model is unique and organized to solve for the alignment of interests between the client families we serve, the talented advisors we employ and the owners of the firm. The core to ensuring this alignment remains intact is the way we have engineered our ownership structure to be 100% employee-owned in perpetuity and independent. Today, approximately one-third of our employees are Aspiriant partners, which is rare within the wealth management industry. Not only are our partners financially committed to the firm — ownership was not simply granted to them — they are laser-focused on our client’s success and believe in the mission and long-term vision of the firm.
Instead of concentrating ownership among a few partners, being a portfolio company of a private equity firm or rolling up to a large aggregator, we’ve distributed ownership widely at Aspiriant. When one of our partners retires, shares are sold to the next generation of talent and everything continues to run smoothly. This enables us to offer long-range continuity to families that other firms cannot.
Importantly, our broad-based ownership model attracts and retains supremely talented people and gives them the opportunity to build something long-term and support multiple generations of families.
Better, cost-effective investment opportunities
Many of the most sought-after investments, particularly in alternative asset classes, have minimum investment requirements well beyond the reach of any single client. And investments typically available to individual investors are inefficient in terms of taxes or liquidity.
So, we created our own not-for-profit mutual funds to help solve these issues for clients and provide an entrée to investments and elite fund managers they couldn’t normally access. By pooling client assets in these funds, we gain the leverage to negotiate volume discounts with asset managers and pass on the savings to clients. We can also solve technical issues associated with certain asset classes, such as reducing minimums and lock-up periods and eliminating vintage-year investing challenges and layers of fees.
Taking the long view
Every time we make a decision regarding the future of Aspiriant, we ask ourselves two questions: What do our client families want and need? What do the country’s most talented advisors and investment experts want and need?
Aspiriant’s philosophy of growth is rooted in these fundamental ideas: create an organization that provides what clients and employees want, align the interests of each group, embrace a fiduciary responsibility, and make the firm durably independent.
Growth is about giving our people the opportunity to expand their relationship with families and serve them well beyond the expected. By durably aligning interests of employees and clients through our independent ownership model and leveraging our collective scale to seek exceptional investment opportunities and specialists, our deliberate growth directly benefits our clients.
We grow organically — one client at a time through referrals — and inorganically — by “folding in” like-minded firms whose culture, philosophy and people align with ours. The founders of these firms would like their clients to have continuity as they retire, and they believe Aspiriant is the best firm to serve their clients for generations.
Each year, our methodical growth fuels our ability to attract top talent, expand services, lower product costs, provide better training for team members and more — all to continue upgrading the client experience. By adhering to these core beliefs and fundamental ideas, we continue to build a new class of wealth management firm that gives families peace of mind for generations to come.