Stephen Gierl and James Wallisch, who operate a Raymond James Financial Services office in Pittsburgh, have always believed in serving their community. But two years ago, the team devised a program to put its money where its mouth is.
Named Invest in Kids, the program donates 20 percent of the team's net first-year fees or commissions on a new client's account to local children's charities. New clients must request participation and can choose from a list of charities.
Since nothing like Invest in Kids existed, Gierl and Wallisch had to wait while company officials and regulators studied the plan. About two months later, Raymond James and the NASD gave their approval.
The program started slowly, and Gierl and Wallisch say it is still in its infancy. But like most small children, it shows a lot of promise, they say.
When they launched Invest in Kids in 1998, they posted fliers at local businesses and inserted them in the newspaper. A dozen charities, many of them youth sports organizations, signed on as potential beneficiaries. Almost $4,000 has been donated so far.
Nearly a dozen new clients, representing assets of $2.6 million, have participated in Invest in Kids. Gierl and Wallisch currently have about 500 clients and oversee about $120 million in assets.
The charitable idea didn't stay theirs for long. Months after Gierl and Wallisch submitted their program, another Raymond James Financial Services broker devised a similar plan. The firm combined the ideas to create a voluntary companywide effort dubbed The Charitable Partners Program. Brokers donate 25 percent of their fees to the charity of the client's choice on a quarterly basis. Donations can be made in the name of the investor or anonymously.
While Invest in Kids wasn't heavily marketed in 1999, Gierl and Wallisch are gearing up for 2000. They might expand the program to include charities in the nearby town where Gierl lives and works from his home two days a week.
Helping Outside the Office Gierl and Wallisch's civic spirit involves more than just opening their practice's wallet. Gierl is on the board of All of Us Care, a grass-roots organization that presents drug and alcohol awareness programs at local schools. And as past president of Fox Chapel (Pa.) Rotary Club, Gierl has participated in many of its projects.
Wallisch has coached several youth sport teams and currently heads an exploratory committee studying whether the YMCA should take over a faltering community center. Additionally, he sits on the board of the local Optimists Club and served on the budget committee for the local school district for three years.
Their three-year-old business partnership has been successful, Gierl says, because they have the same approach to business. That approach includes community activism for the right reasons, not just to snag clients.
"It takes too much of your time" to do it for selfish reasons, Wallisch says.
"Jim and I both feel very strongly about giving back to the community," Gierl adds. "That's not just hype."