Practice Management

A matter of time (management)

Jan 26, 2014 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Even though the three founding partners of Willow Street Advisors started the business during the most difficult economic time in recent memory, December 2008, they have built it into a top- performing firm with superior revenue growth.

The owners attribute their business success to efficient management, including maximizing their professionals' time with a robust and skilled staff and requiring everyone at Willow Street to provide extraordinary client service.

“This is a profession where it's becoming like the legal or accounting worlds,” said co-founder Christopher Bray, Willow Street's managing director for Florida. “You have to differentiate yourself, and we do so with service. We are committed to high levels of service to establish loyalty and client delight.”

Each client is managed by two professionals, a client adviser and a portfolio manager, as well as by a staff of associates who are trained to handle a wide array of client issues and concerns.

“It's a goal of the firm to leverage the owners' time and push tasks to associates as much as possible,” Mr. Bray said.

The firm, which requires clients to have at least $1 million of investible assets, focuses on helping wealthy families with both investment management and estate and tax work, said co-founder Rich Stevens, Willow Street's chief investment officer.

“We aim to be our clients' financial go-to people,” Mr. Stevens said. “They are busy and we build trust with them so they feel confident that someone is looking after the store while they are doing their things.”

The third Willow Street co-founder is David Kearns, a lawyer in the firm's Akron, Ohio, office.

Willow Street, which is headquartered in Naples, Fla., and generated about $2 million in revenue last year, was named a top performer based on the 2013 InvestmentNews/Moss Adams Adviser Compensation and Staffing Study. The firm posted some of the highest rates of revenue growth seen in the study and ranked seventh for productivity among top-performing multiprofessional firms.

Nearly all of the firm's 45 client relationships came through referrals or through the firm's involvement in various community organizations in Naples, Mr. Bray said.

GREW UP TOGETHER

Mr. Bray is former chairman of the board of trustees for the Community Foundation of Collier County and a former member of the board of directors for the Naples Zoo, the Naples Players and the CFA Society of Naples. Mr. Stevens is a former member of the executive committee and board of directors of the Naples Art Association.

Mr. Bray and Mr. Stevens worked together at National City Bank in Cleveland before deciding to create an independent firm together with Mr. Kearns, who grew up with Mr. Bray on Willow Street in Kent, Ohio.

While the majority of the firm's growth over the past five years came organically, Willow Street brought on former Huntington Bank adviser Michael Harris in 2012 to add $30 million in assets.

Mr. Bray manages about 15 of the firm's client relationships worth about $200 million while Mr. Harris works with about 30 clients with a total of $100 million, according to Mr. Bray.

Willow Street's client roster registers about one-third business entrepreneurs, one-third people who inherited wealth and one-third corporate executives.

Using a client relationship management system, the firm reviews its relationships regularly to make sure they aren't spending an inordinate amount of time on just a few clients.

“Our biggest challenge is enforcing quality control standards firmwide,” Mr. Bray said.

lskinner@investmentnews.com Twitter: @skinnerliz

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