Enjoying the RIA Elements

Stephen Moulton, Fien Moulton & Associates, Pittsford, N.Y.Stephen Moulton sums up his 10 years in brokerage this way: "I was a misfit in a sales-driven culture."Moulton began to chart an unconventional course soon after he joined EF Hutton in the mid-1980s. He was one of the firm's early participants in its wrap-fee consulting program.By 1991, fees accounted for half of Moulton's business. He wanted

Stephen Moulton, Fien Moulton & Associates, Pittsford, N.Y.

Stephen Moulton sums up his 10 years in brokerage this way: "I was a misfit in a sales-driven culture."

Moulton began to chart an unconventional course soon after he joined EF Hutton in the mid-1980s. He was one of the firm's early participants in its wrap-fee consulting program.

By 1991, fees accounted for half of Moulton's business. He wanted to be an investment adviser. So he moved to Advest for its fee-based discretionary portfolio management program.

Within two years Moulton converted 90 percent of his business to the program and became a chartered financial analyst. But there were frustrations. He felt hampered by high fees and restrictions on what he could include in portfolios.

"I couldn't buy bonds in the firm's inventory because they were principal transactions," Moulton says. "I'd have to get quadruplicate sign-offs to get approvals."

Then he was introduced to Anthony Fien, an independent RIA, by an insurance agent who saw similarities in their business styles. Moulton and Fien met regularly for a year before deciding to form their own advisory firm in 1994, Fien Moulton & Associates in Pittsford, N.Y.

The transition was painless, Moulton says, because Fien had an existing investment advisory registration and custodial relationship with Charles Schwab & Co. Moulton also brought over a portfolio accounting and reporting system, Centerpiece. The program became an even more powerful tool, Moulton says, when Schwab purchased it soon after the move.

There were good surprises the first year. "It was a refreshing change not to worry about how the growth of my business impacted the firm," Moulton says. Even better, clients grew more relaxed. He uncovered more assets as clients told him they felt better about having their money at Schwab. "Clients began to be much more open with referrals," he says.

Moulton and Fien run separate practices, each with about 50 family relationships. They share two associates, one handles operations and compliance, and the other, a former trust officer, builds business from bank relationships.

The partners' original 35 million dollars in assets has now grown to 95 million dollars. "I cut my fees more than in half when we started the firm and put 50 percent more money in my pocket," Moulton says.

Elderly widows and their families form the core of Moulton's clientele, along with some small-business owners and corporate executives. He continues to manage individual stock and bond portfolios.

"Now it's totally a relationship business," Moulton says. "The focus is less on day-to-day account performance and more on taking care of them holistically, even down to helping business owners strategize their decisions. I couldn't be dragged back to the brokerage environment."

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