Four years ago, when Brian Orton left banking to become a broker with D.A. Davidson & Co. in Redmond, Wash., he worked with an attorney who was a guardian for people with disabilities. "He had a need for investments beyond CDs for his clients," Orton says. "He liked the suggestions I made. He talked about my work to other guardians."
>From those first referrals, Orton developed a niche working with >guardians, trustees and attorneys who assist people with disabilities. >Many of the attorneys' clients have received personal injury lawsuit >settlements or inheritances, Orton says.
This niche is the main focus of Orton's prospecting efforts, and it makes up more than half of his business. The other portion centers on retirees, executives and business owners. Focusing on the guardianship community has fueled the growth of Orton's business, he says. "My assets [under management] have doubled in two years-from $16 million to $35 million."
However, breaking into this specialty area didn't happen overnight. Professionals who assist people with disabilities are "a tight-knit group, and there are barriers to entry," Orton says. "The only way to get in is to demonstrate a level of knowledge. It's taken me years to get to the point where an attorney will get a $4.5 million settlement for a client and say, 'I want you to be the guy.'"
How did Orton break in? Self-education, differentiation from the competition, networking and persistence, he says.
Orton says it took several months to learn about guardians' requirements. "I've surrounded myself with people who know, and I've asked a lot of questions. I've also done a lot of studying and reading."
For background purposes, Orton learned about the various types of trusts that can be established for people with disabilities. For example, a special needs trust does not allow the client to be in a position of risk, Orton says. "You need to know what's OK to put in or take out," he says. "If you do it incorrectly, the client might not get entitlements [such as Medicaid]. It makes me more valuable to the client if I understand the product."
Studying his competition was part of the process, too. Orton discovered that many trust management companies use a cookie-cutter approach to investing. When a typical trust management company offers a custom portfolio, Orton explains, "nine out of 10 times, they give you a choice of five modeled portfolios or a hodgepodge of mutual funds."
Orton, on the other hand, manages the money himself, choosing individual equities and working with a variety of trusts. "Trust companies are not in the business of managing individual stocks and bonds," he says. By managing each portfolio, Orton provides greater tax efficiency and better personalization.
His level of service is another selling point. A lot of Orton's clients have experienced poor service from other brokers or trust companies in the past. "I'm the guy who makes house calls," he says. "I always have a cell phone, and I try to get back to them quickly. My clients get a human voice who can answer questions and get it right the first time."
Getting Out ThereOnce he figured out what he had over the competition, Orton had to work on telling others about it. "If you don't network, you will be ignored," he says. Two years ago, he developed "Money Matters," a monthly newsletter targeted to people connected to people with disabilities, such as advocacy groups, attorneys and social workers. He covers issues such as Y2K, investment options and market trends.
Beyond his own newsletter, Orton has written for legal trade publications, including an article on special needs trusts for the King County Bar Association's newsletter.
Speaking engagements for advocacy, education and support organizations for people with disabilities are also part of Orton's repertoire. Last year, he spoke at the Northwest Conference for the Brain Injury Association of Washington. He's been asked to speak at the United Cerebral Palsy workshop this fall.
Helping people with disabilities is rewarding, Orton says. "The way the money is managed is responsible for their livelihood: They don't get to work," he says. "Their appreciation is real."