Ryan T. Nelson, Manager in Investment Advisory, Partner

Meet Ryan Nelson

Moving to Austin

Ryan Nelson started investment advising in high school by helping his father select stocks. An engineer by trade, Ryan’s dad picked up the hobby of investing in the late 1970s.

“He would frequently ask me, ‘What brand of jeans are the kids buying these days?’ or ‘What kind of computers are your friends buying?’ If I said, ‘Levi’s are popular lately,’ he’d go and buy the stock. It was fascinating to me, and over time I became keenly interested in markets,” Ryan recalls.

While studying economics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Ryan interned at a boutique brokerage house and investment bank in San Francisco, The Shemano Group, and found the job to be exhilarating. After graduating from college, he joined a broker-dealer and insurance firm who sponsored him to obtain his Series 7 securities license.

“I was 22, and all I wanted to do was buy and sell stocks like my boss at The Shemano Group. I knew nothing at all about the nuances of the financial services industry.”

This happened to be during the run up to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2007-2009. By the time he had one year under his belt advising clients, the bubble had burst, and the financial services world would be changed forever.

After spending a few years at a global bank and working for an independent financial advisor helping build out their client base, Ryan quickly realized that side of the industry was not for him.

“The incentives were misaligned. They were all centered around how much value you could extract from a client, not about how much value you can deliver to a client,” Ryan says. “It certainly wasn’t what I went to school for, and it didn’t sit well with me ethically.”

Ryan decided he wanted to work for an independent Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) in San Francisco — specifically, an RIA that is fee-based, runs discretionary portfolios, and cannot earn sales commissions based on individual transactions.

He landed on Aspiriant. “The independent research I had done on co-founders Rob Francais and Tim Kochis, and the story of the genesis of Aspiriant and its subsequent merger with Deloitte Investment Advisors, impressed me.”

In 2012, Ryan joined the firm starting in San Francisco as a portfolio administrator in our Investment Operations department. A year later, he transitioned into an associate role in the Investment Advisory department of Aspiriant’s Family Office Services group. This coincided with his first relocation to the firm’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

Today, as a partner of the firm and manager in Investment Advisory, Ryan currently serves about 30 families from California to Texas. He is responsible for articulating Aspiriant’s investment platform and value proposition to clients and prospective clients. This includes reviewing portfolio performance and discussing our Investment Strategy & Research group’s asset class forecasts, investment strategy and capital market expectations.

Now he’s decided to take the next big step in his career, helping to launch Aspiriant’s newest office in Austin, Texas. Here, we talk with Ryan to learn more about helping clients to achieve more with their investments and what it’s like in Texas’ capital city.

You started your career during a challenging time for investment advisors. Twelve years later, what’s most challenging in today’s market when advising clients on their portfolios?

As an advisor, it is helpful if you’ve experienced a full economic cycle to understand what it’s like from the perspective of the client. During the bottom of the GFC, I had one client who panicked and moved half her retirement portfolio into cash against our advice. While she had many years remaining until her projected retirement date, her risk tolerance was lower than she had originally thought it was. Had she remained fully invested, she would have more than recaptured what was lost during the downturn.

I spend a lot of time now explaining to investors the importance of not making emotionally based investment decisions. In today’s environment these conversations involve educating clients on the importance of cycles, particularly cycles of valuation and profitability.

What motivated you to move to Austin?

My college roommate moved to Austin in 2011, and when visiting him back then, I fell in love with the city. I was always drawn to the live music scene here, and I love the evolving food and arts options that the city has to offer. People tend to be very healthy as well.

I’ve been serving our Austin-based clients for several years, so traveling back and forth got me well-acquainted with the city. Once the opportunity came up to plant an Aspiriant flag here, I jumped on it.

I was also ready to leave Los Angeles after staying there longer than I had anticipated. While the pace is a little slower in Austin, I embrace the change.

What wealth management opportunities do you see in Austin?

There is excellent opportunity here as an independent wealth manager. Every day, more corporations are announcing they are moving their corporate headquarters to Austin and the surrounding areas. Capital investment and growth are among the highest in any city in the country. The economy is booming, and the demand for unbiased and objective financial advice is robust.

In particular, Austin and greater Texas happen to be replete with entrepreneurs who can benefit from comprehensive pre- and post-liquidity event planning services, such as concentrated stock management, tax strategies, wealth transfer techniques, estate planning and philanthropy consulting. In addition to advising the C-suite of many Fortune 500 companies, we specialize in helping founders of closely held businesses plan for liquidity events including partial sales, recapitalizations, acquisitions and IPOs.

How can we serve clients better from Austin?

Having a local presence for our Texas-based clients is certainly a value-add. We can finally conduct live meetings in our own conference rooms, and it’s nice for our clients to know we are physically located here if they need anything.

From an operational standpoint we can also better serve our entire client base across the country, as we grow our investment operations department here in Austin. Being in a central time zone where our team members can support advisors on both coasts is key to our commitment to client service.

What’s most surprising to you about Austin?

The energy in Austin is captivating and infectious. It’s no longer a sleepy little town in central Texas made up of mostly government employees, but a diverse and bustling hub of culture, innovation and investment. New shops and restaurants pop up every week, and cranes are peppered throughout the city as crews race to complete the next new high rise. It’s an exciting environment to be a part of.