Stephen is a principal and senior financial advisor in the Stuart, Florida, office. He directs an HBKS® team of financial advisors, tax professionals and administrators who customize financial plans and investment strategies to meet client-specific needs and goals. His primary focus is on integrating each component of a client’s comprehensive financial picture into a coordinated plan. He believes that a comprehensive, integrated plan is essential to helping a client understand and reach their goals.
Stephen started his financial services career in 1989. As a tax consultant with Arthur Andersen & Co., he oversaw a tax service contract with the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), the federal agency charged with resolving the savings and loan crisis of that period. Then in late 1992, as a partner in Schramm & Munson, P.A., he lead the firm’s initiative on behalf of the RTC to service the tax reporting responsibilities for more than 120 failed financial institutions in the Western states. Realizing the need and market potential for a financial professional who could combine tax, accounting and financial services expertise to provide holistic client solutions, he returned to his hometown, Stuart, Florida, in 1999 to establish a firm that would provide comprehensive financial services for individuals, families and businesses. In 2004, he merged the firm with HBKS®.
Stephen earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Accounting from West Virginia University and his Masters in Accounting from the University of Florida. He holds the designations of Certified Financial Planner™, Certified Public Accountant and Personal Financial Specialist. He has served as chairman of the board for House of Hope, the Economic Council of Martin County and the YMCA of Treasure Coast Florida.
What is the most fulfilling aspect about your work?
After working in the tax services profession for a number of years, I became fascinated with wealth management and financial planning. What particularly piqued my interest was how so many people needed quality planning services but so few financial services providers were actually doing it. I think the key to wealth management and what I enjoy so very much about it is the importance of understanding the uniqueness of each client situation. Of course many clients have common issues: Are they saving enough for retirement or their kids’ college? Do they have an appropriate investment strategy? Do they have an adequate estate plan? But because each client is unique, you have to take the time to understand that. If you don’t, I’d argue it is very difficult to truly help someone.
Every client has different risk factors, different concerns, and thinks of risk differently – how dependent are they on their occupational earnings, how predictable are these earnings? Can they weather a downturn in the economy and markets? They might be supporting family members outside their immediate household. Do they realize the risks they actually have?
I like to look at what goes on in their lives. I get a lot of satisfaction out of how we provide our counsel as a firm, as a team, that it is part of our standard process, methodologies and culture, that we do it that way here, and in Naples, and in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, in all our offices. That’s how we build our team and I think that’s what makes us so unique and competitive.
How does being part of HBKS® help you service clients in that way?
I truly enjoy getting to know clients closely so we can provide exceptional individualized services. I’ve also enjoyed building a firm that can do this on a much larger scale. When I first started providing wealth management services, I did it on an individual basis. However, I knew that I was doing a disservice to my clients because I could only know so much and only have time to help so much. I merged with HBKS® because the partner group shared a vision that to truly provide this on a more client-centric platform we needed more talented individuals to work with us, some who we have hired from outside and some who we have groomed from within. We wanted to use a talented group of individuals and advanced technology solutions to provide this very individualized client service process. That’s our model. It’s more expensive to work this way than as a one-person operation. But that’s why our retention rates are so outstanding. It’s not just about investment returns, but more about making sure all the financial issues are addressed, from buying a car to providing for the distribution of assets after death.
What would you advise someone to look for in a wealth manager?
Someone who gets to know you, all the financial issues going on in your life, who takes the time to do that and to understand what wakes you up in the middle of the night, what could really devastate you if it went wrong, whether you’re risk adverse or a risk taker, what would happen to your loved ones if something incapacitated you. I’d want that advisor to be part of a team, a group of people with expertise in different financial disciplines.
Whenever I’m sitting in front of a prospective client, someone who’s been working with another advisor, I’ll ask if the advisor has ever talked to the client about tax-efficient investing. They’ll typically say yes. Then I ask if the advisor ever asked for a copy of their tax return. Almost none have. If you haven’t asked for a tax return, my guess is you haven’t come close to investing the time to get to know the client.
“I truly enjoy getting to know clients closely so we can provide exceptional individualized services. I’ve also enjoyed building a firm that can do this on a much larger scale.”