The day after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Eduardo J. Ramos returned to business as usual at Freedom Advisory, the registered investment advisory firm he started 10 years ago in San Juan. The firm is one of just a handful of independent RIAs on the island.
His office building was fine, but the internet was down, so Mr. Ramos emailed his clients from a hotel lobby to assure them their investments were safe. In the months that followed, as citizens dealt with the aftermath of the hurricanes, Freedom Advisory provided the liquidity its clients needed to repair damaged homes.
"The last thing that they wanted was to be worried about their investments, so we were able to provide them with assurance," Mr. Ramos said.
It's not the first time that Mr. Ramos, 55, dealt with a crisis. He opened his firm in San Juan in 2008, and had to convince clients to come on board following the collapse of the financial markets.
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"It took a lot of guts to start a registered investment adviser that year," said Roberto Rivera, the director of Freedom Advisory. Mr. Ramos was convinced he could do better for clients and was thrilled to start his firm. He chose the name because he wanted to stress financial freedom for his clients.
Mr. Ramos was born and raised in San Juan and graduated from Inter-American University of Puerto Rico in 1984. He started his career as an auditor at Deloitte. However, he was more interested in following companies and decided his role was too limited. In 1998, he got a degree in financial management from Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia, and in 2009, he got his certified investment management analyst certification from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
He started Freedom Advisory when he saw that Puerto Rico was mainly filled with wirehouses or brokerage firms. When he faced pressure from stakeholders to become a hybrid, he staunchly decided to keep the RIA fee-only. The firm charges a percentage of client assets.
"I saw a need to have an adviser provide you their service without conflict of interest," Mr. Ramos said.
Today, the firm has four advisers and more than $200 million in client assets. Moreover, it serves more than 200 households from Puerto Rico and the mainland. Freedom Advisory has a second office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to reach the Hispanic market. It custodies with Charles Schwab & Co. Inc.
"We resonate very well with Hispanics, and we are grateful that we can assist Hispanics and be able to professionally guide them within the fiduciary standard," Mr. Ramos said.
Mr. Ramos never faced discrimination in the financial sector for being Hispanic, but he found, to a small extent, that people often did not realize that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens.
Until 2013, Freedom Advisory also operated out of Chicago for four years in a move to target Hispanic entrepreneurs, but found the location geographically challenging. In contrast, Florida is virtually a next-door neighbor and easier to travel to. "It's common for us to see clients in one day and come back," Mr. Ramos said.
The two locations also allow Freedom Advisory to cater to a Hispanic clientele across different generations and exposures to the mainland. Operating within a common culture, oftentimes in a common language, helps them connect with Latino clients on financial decisions such as college or retirement planning.
"We understand the family values and how to take care of their legacy," Mr. Ramos said.
While the firm has grown beyond his expectations, Mr. Ramos hopes to become a larger firm in the next 10 years. He believes that building relationships through trust and transparency is the way to go.
"You go to a doctor and you don't feel comfortable with a doctor until you find the right doctor, and then you say, this is it," Mr. Ramos said. "To be able to service customers and work with them has been the greatest reward."
This story is part of an ongoing initiative by InvestmentNews to cultivate a financial advice profession in which diverse perspectives are welcomed and respected, and industry best practices can be shared across organizations.