When Jennifer Hatch started working at JP Morgan in 1985, she couldn't help but think she was the only gay person on Wall Street. Feeling alone, for years she dreamed of working for a firm like Christopher Street Financial, a company created in 1981 specifically to serve the LBGT community.
In 1997, her dream came true. Sadly, the owner of Christopher Street had recently died of complications from HIV, and Ms. Hatch, who by then had moved to Bear Stearns, was able to purchase the practice. Initially, she saw her primary role in the firm as an investor, but advisory services soon turned out to be her calling.
Originally focused on mutual fund sales and individual retirement accounts, at the time Christopher Street — the firm is named for the site of the Stonewall riots in New York that launched the gay liberation movement in 1969 — had 3,000 clients spread out across the country.
"People sought us out because they had no one locally to work with," Ms. Hatch said. Unlike many planning boutiques, Christopher Street offered specific financial, legal and tax advice, with expertise for strategies required by unmarried couples.
By 2001, the firm had moved from investment planning into holistic life and wealth management.
"Our bread and butter is still fee-based investment management," said Ms. Hatch, who has grown assets under management from $200 million to more than $500 million.
Today, Ms. Hatch's office houses 11 professionals, comprising six certified financial planners, five operations support personnel, and other strategic partners with complementary businesses, like estate planning attorneys specializing in same-sex couples, as well as a tax firm.
"Clients like to get all their needs taken care of under one roof," she said. For instance, they can help structure charitable giving toward LBGT causes, which appeals to some childless donors.
Dorie Fain, founder and CEO of &Wealth, which specializes in divorce, shares the firm's space. She respects Ms. Hatch's institutional background and sound operational approach.
"Jen doesn't take running the business lightly," she said. "Her training in trading and understanding of capital markets has also helped the team here grow."
About 75% of Christopher Street clients are from the LGBT community. The remainder are progressive allies or referrals such as relatives or neighbors. The firm still spends time educating clients as to why they need a distinct program for their financial lives.
"At the beginning, people didn't understand why they couldn't simply throw their money together as their parents did, and that used to be my biggest frustration," Ms. Hatch said. "A committed couple, who own assets and are creating a future together, need specialized advice."
When same sex marriage was legalized, Ms. Hatch assumed there would be less demand for her expertise. On the contrary, the firm has been growing and plans to add new partners over the coming five years.
Many couples now approach her even before they tie the knot. Others want to better understand the marriage contract they have just signed. She points out that each state has a different set of laws for marriage, divorce and children. One can opt out of some of these obligations, or couples can even customize their own contract the way they tailor their vows. The legal profession may label those agreements a protective pre-nup or post-nup, but those personalized terms can also represent an economic partnership.
Coming from an institutional background, Ms. Hatch relishes the challenge of working with individuals to solve their unique problems. Her colleague Ms. Fain described how she proudly displays her clients' professional artwork and awards in her office space.
"You don't often find financial advisers so aligned with their clients," she said.
That spirit prompts Christopher Street to support social justice causes that reflect like-minded values. The firm spends over $100,000 a year on scholarships, eldercare health, HIV issues and other causes. It also provides office space to Family Equality, an organization that advocates nationwide for gay parents.
Ms. Hatch, who regards financial planning as a kind of social work, likes to hire former teachers, therapists and coaching professionals.
"I can teach people the numbers," she said. "But compassion and the ability to play a role in someone's life is a unique skill."