April 28, 2017
For more than 35 years, Linda Fitz has helped clients manage their wealth and achieve their financial goals. After serving as an executive financial counselor at Bank of America and Deloitte & Touche, she and colleague Tim Kochis formed Kochis & Fitz in San Francisco in 1991. Seventeen years later, Kochis Fitz merged with Quintile in Los Angeles to create Aspiriant. Today, Aspiriant has over 170 employees, including nearly 60 owners, in 10 offices nationwide. She’ll soon be retiring as a wealth manager and will dedicate more time to philanthropy. Here’s her story on building a legacy.
Since 1982, I’ve been helping clients prepare for retirement and define their ability to support what’s important to them. Now, it’s hard to believe, it’s my turn to step into a new phase in life.
I’ve often described my work as a director of wealth management as the best career in the world, and I’m proud of helping to build this firm and working with such talented and committed colleagues. At the same time, I’m looking forward to a slower pace — no more hurrying from pillar to post as I try to make the world a better place for clients, for me and for future generations.
However, retirement for me won’t mean that I’ll completely stop trying to make a difference. I’m just going to be able to give more quality time to causes that are important to me: saving the environment and historic buildings, supporting our non-profit theaters, and promoting useful urban and regional planning.
Some version of saving the world has been within me for the past 50 years. My time at U.C. Berkeley in the 1960s — where I saw people actively devoted to causes, such as free speech, ending the Vietnam War, serving in the Peace Corp, civil rights, and equal pay for women — helped to broaden my view on the many ways one person can make a difference.
My 1970’s passion for saving historic buildings blossomed through my work with San Francisco Heritage, where our identification of downtown landmarks led to their lasting protection. As a staff member, I learned what makes a board director valuable: attending meetings, donating money, advocating for the cause, making connections to decision-makers and donors, chairing committees, and being thoughtful and collaborative.
During that time at Heritage, it didn’t occur to me that I’d ever become a philanthropist. But thanks to Aspiriant’s success, I’ve been able to serve in leadership positions for my favorite charities and contribute funds to support operating budgets and capital campaigns that built important, iconic facilities in the San Francisco Bay Area, such as Heritage’s Victorian Haas-Lilienthal House and the California Academy of Sciences. As a finance person, I helped stretch those philanthropic dollars using many of the techniques we at Aspiriant share with clients. Now, I’m eager to immerse myself even more deeply in these missions.
To be a successful philanthropist, it’s important to strategically include your vision in your wealth management plan. Looking back, I realize that many of the fundamental lessons I shared with clients to help them realize their goals have worked equally well for me.
Maximize savings early
Accumulating savings is crucial. I learned the benefit of saving as a little girl in Petaluma, Calif. Every week we brought dimes or quarters to deposit in our bank-sponsored “Christmas Club” accounts, starting a lifetime habit of counting my money. During high school, I saved summer earnings toward my goal of buying a yellow Corvair for college. When I started working full time, I made sure to save in a 401(k) account and max out company matches as much as possible. When Tim Kochis and I launched our wealth management firm, without hesitation we started a profit-sharing plan because it’s what we believed in as financial advisors. To this day, Aspiriant employees benefit from this bonus structure to help them build for their futures.
My personal goals included living a stimulating city lifestyle in a home with a view of San Francisco and the bay, sharing with my family, and being philanthropic. By using Aspiriant’s wealth management software, I regularly computed what I needed to save to reach these goals. With a solid plan in hand, hard work and plenty of luck, I was able to achieve them a few years ago. Now, I’m excited to have the freedom to spend more time enjoying them.
Start a Donor Advised Fund (DAF)
My philosophy has been to give large gifts to organizations I’m involved with, and small amounts to other local non-profits. But rather than donate to each of these projects separately, which would then have to be laboriously itemized to the IRS as charitable deductions, I use a DAF. With a DAF, you make one reportable donation, and it can be transformed into scores of gifts. Best of all, the DAF increases the dollars for charity because you can donate highly appreciated shares, meaning no capital gains taxes. If you’ll be retiring with a load of deferred compensation or severance, you can offset that high income with an extra-large DAF contribution that you can dole out over the following 10 or even 20 years.
Use your IRA to give
A simple way to leave a legacy after your death is to make your favorite charities the beneficiaries of an IRA. It’s easy to change the beneficiary form, and it’s free — you avoid paying a lawyer to change your trust. If you have family members you also want to provide for, you can split your IRA. Then you always know how much you’ll be leaving to each beneficiary.
Retirement for me won’t mean that I’ll completely stop trying to make a difference. I’m just going to be able to give more quality time to causes that are important to me.
As I’ve worked with clients, I helped them identify the type of legacy they wanted to leave to their families and the world. And now here I am reflecting on my own contributions and looking toward the future.
Since Tim and I formed our little firm in 1991 with just the two of us and a secretary, I’ve thrown myself into helping clients achieve their goals and nurtured a culture that was built on commitment, objectivity and collaboration. I marveled as the company grew and eventually merged with Quintile, another great wealth management firm, to become Aspiriant. And we continue to join forces with like-minded companies in order to ensure that the clients we serve will continue to receive comprehensive, holistic and objective financial advice from an independent firm through the generations. While it’s gratifying to look back at what I helped to create, I’m certain that Aspiriant will continue to be an outstanding, independent wealth management firm long after I’m gone.
In retirement, I look forward to spending more time with family and furthering my philanthropic interests by attending SPUR programs on San Francisco planning issues and mentoring students at the American Conservatory Theater. New, fun stuff!
Of course, it’s possible that unexpected opportunities to give time and treasure will arise — we can’t know the future! But at least I believe that by staying focused on what I wanted to achieve in life, I’ve built a strong framework so I can still help make the world a better place.
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