“Ten years ago, right now, Steward was an idea on a piece of paper,” Steward Partners CEO Jim Gold said on May 11. It was the final day of Steward’s sixth annual symposium at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville.
“We filed to have our LLC established in Delaware and got an email from the state on July 3 saying our independent firm was approved,” he said. “On the eve of Independence Day. And I said I thought it was a sign.”
The firm hired its first advisor in late September 2013 and ended the year with three advisors and $50 million in assets, according to Gold. Less than 10 years later, Steward Partners comprises 225 advisors overseeing around $30 billion in client assets.
More than two-thirds of those advisors were in Nashville for the annual gathering, along with their families, firm management and Steward’s board of directors. New partners were presented with Steward Partners jerseys denoting the order in which they joined the firm, a tradition Gold began early on.
“It signifies that we’re teammates,” he said. “I thought about it almost like the NFL draft, where they draft you and you come up on stage and hold up your jersey and take pictures.
“It’s cool now to see advisors visit another office and they'll walk in and go, ‘Wait, you were number 26? Oh my, I'm 180. Wow. You were here in the beginning.’”
It's that culture that drew Amy Sabin, partner and managing director of The Sabin Group at Steward Partners in Dallas—and jersey No. 110. She came to Steward in July 2019 to escape the hyper-competitive atmosphere at JP Morgan Securities.
“I just couldn't deal with it anymore,” she said. “Here, we root for everyone else. Every other financial advisor, the client associates, we all have ownership in the company and we're all working toward the same goal, which is to take care of the clients. There could not be a better feeling, and I've been in the business for 29 years.”
“It’s a firm that’s focused on attracting people who are nice, for lack of a better word,” said Denis Poljak, who leads Poljak Group Wealth Management at Steward Partners in Shreveport, La.—jersey No. 142.
Poljak, who left Morgan Stanley to join Steward in April 2021, said he was initially drawn to the flexibility afforded by the partnership model and freedom to work in the best interests of his clients.
“Everyone is happy for everyone's success—genuinely happy,” he said. “The company value goes up as a result so you would expect it to be that way everywhere, but sometimes at the bigger wirehouses and other places, colleagues in the same office view themselves as competitors. Here, it's different. There's a beautiful collaboration and people work together. And when someone does well, there's a genuine happiness across the board.”
Gold said there were 10 potential recruits attending the symposium, adding that hearing from the firm's board of directors and investors is important to both existing partners and potential prospects.
“That’s something we did last year, and it’s had a very high success rate,” Gold said. “The folks that are here have pretty much all verbally committed to joining the firm.”
Among the things Steward was celebrating was the fall 2020 acquisition of the broker/dealer Umpqua Investments, now Steward Partners Investment Solutions, which fully transitioned about a year ago.
“The best is yet to come,” Gold said, quoting a Frank Sinatra lyric displayed on this year’s event T-shirts. “We did the big change and now we’re moving on to all the benefits of having a broker/dealer.”
Another thing to look out for, Gold added, is Stewbot—Steward’s new AI-enabled chat bot. Stewbot has digested Steward’s 300-page operations manual and is able to guide employees through procedures such as how to hire an intern or do outside business in a matter of seconds.
“A firm of our size can be very nimble from a technology and a platform and a resource perspective,” he said. “So, you're going to see that, and I think it's going to be a real differentiator among folks who want flexibility in running their business.
“That’s something we’re always thinking about,” said Gold, noting that Steward’s multicustodial platform also supports different affiliation models. “We want to give people optionality.”