As a senior research analyst at one of the nation’s largest institutional investment firms, Brett Shaver managed fundamental analysis for key sectors within the firm’s large-cap equity strategies. He loved the intellectual aspects of his job, but felt something was missing – an opportunity to come to know and work closely with the people his insights were intended to help. A chance meeting led to his joining Princeton Global Asset Management in Princeton, NJ, where he now serves as president and portfolio manager. Recently, InvestmentNews explored the ways his move to an independent Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) business has changed his professional and personal life, and how Schwab Advisor Services™ has supported him and his firm.
InvestmentNews: Your switch from a successful 15-year institutional career to running an RIA firm is an interesting story. How did it happen?
BRETT SHAVER: In 2016, I was at a local golf tournament and ran into a portfolio manager I had worked with several years earlier. He left our firm to start a Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) business in Princeton, and I told him I had heard some good things about it. He mentioned his firm was growing and that he and his older partner were talking about having someone younger join them to address contingency and succession issues. He asked if I would be interested in talking.
To tell you the truth, I wasn’t familiar with what an RIA was or what independent advisors actually did. At the same time, I was open for a change because I wanted to develop relationships with the people who stood to benefit from my investment ideas. I realized it was just a phenomenal business model where you can focus as much on building the client relationships as on investments. That was the part that was missing from my career – actually helping people build wealth and ultimately retire, vs. just putting up pure numbers. I feel very fortunate that in my work now I get to combine these two passions.
InvestmentNews: Tell us about Princeton Global Asset Management.
BRETT SHAVER: Investing is in the DNA of our firm. We do our own research, pick individual securities, and build our own portfolios. At the same time, we’re also embracing new tools and new strategies, such as using more exchange-traded funds in portfolio construction. In addition to managing investments, our 13 professionals help with planning decisions of all types, and work with outside estate planners and CPAs to help clients. In a real sense, we lead and guide clients in making important financial decisions.
InvestmentNews: For prospective and current clients, how important is the fact that your firm is independent?
BRETT SHAVER: People appreciate that our interests are completely aligned with theirs and that we view our job as being a financial quarterback – not someone who just checks in from time to time. Some clients fully get behind that and root for us, which helps generate referrals. We also have a modest office right on one of Princeton’s main streets, and clients appreciate that we’re not in a big, expensive office building.
The challenge is that many people have never heard our name before. That’s where the power of our custodial relationship with Schwab comes in. We explain that while you’re working directly with us, your accounts actually reside with Schwab. We explain that Schwab holds over $1.76 trillion1 of RIA client assets and is extremely supportive of independent advisors. The institutional brand awareness they have of Schwab is instant, and gives them a sense of security.
I should also say that once a prospect becomes a client, Schwab makes it as easy as possible for us to open the new account or accounts correctly. They make sure all the complex paperwork is handled efficiently and professionally. The internal plumbing of the securities industry is not our area of expertise, so we’re delighted – and our customers are delighted – that whether it’s transferring assets or linking accounts, Schwab does a fantastic job. Advisors considering a transition to the RIA model should be aware that Schwab provides guidance and assistance every step of the way. I certainly didn’t know the scope of these services, which serve as a kind of comprehensive safety net for advisors making a change.
InvestmentNews: Beyond its custodial services, how does Schwab help your business grow?
BRETT SHAVER: Our AUM is currently about $290 million, and we plan to double that over the next three years. To help get there, I attended a really good session on strategic planning at a recent IMPACT event, Schwab’s annual conference for advisors. I was impressed that Schwab would provide us with a framework and, effectively, a template to create our own strategic plan. When I returned from the conference, I got our partners together to review the template, using it to discuss our firm’s strengths and weaknesses.
The discussion, and the strategic planning that followed, gave us the push we needed to start modernizing the firm and make changes that needed to be made. I attribute the greater efficiency and growth we’re already experiencing to that resource of information Schwab provided at IMPACT.
InvestmentNews: How has being independent affected your life?
BRETT SHAVER: Professionally, taking a calculated risk and becoming an independent advisor has paid off, both in terms of career satisfaction through the opportunity to run a business and through the ability to build long-term personal wealth. The flexibility of being an independent advisor has also made a world of difference in my personal life. It’s so different from what I experienced working for a large corporation. There’s no more “face time,” no more getting in early and staying late to win points. Believe me, it’s not that I don’t work hard – being a principal in a small firm isn’t a nine-to-five job. You always have to be “on” and pay attention. But your time is flexible. If you want to go to your kid’s swim meet or tee-ball game, you don’t have to think twice about it; you can leave and come back to the work when the time is appropriate. If you have a family, that is really important. I think I’ve had more dinners with my family in the last year than I had in the seven years at my old firm. Independence has meant a lot to me and to my wife. It has provided a way for me to be successful career-wise, be a good dad, and even liven up my dinner-table conversation – or so my wife says.
1As of June 2019 Schwab does not supervise investment advisors and takes no responsibility to monitor the services they provide. Schwab Advisor Services™ includes the custody, trading, and support services of Charles Schwab & Co. (Member SIPC) (www.sipc.org). (1119-9A80)