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President's Letter: Addressing Allegiant's Growth

June 2018: A Letter from Martin J. Kossoff, President

Clients have recently given me feedback requesting a helpful explanation of our company’s structure and addressing our plans for future growth.  I absolutely agree with that recommendation, and it’s also a good time to step back and review where we’ve come from. Allegiant Private Advisors has grown significantly, which was our strategic purpose, and always with a focus on excellent client service and ease of interacting with us. Because of our growth, we now have many more capabilities and service offerings for you than ever before, and more talented staff to work with.

Our growth was driven by two factors: receiving referrals from existing clients of new friends and family that wanted to talk to us; and second, a desire to expand our capabilities so that we could offer deep, comprehensive financial planning advice. Let me quickly recount where we’ve been and where we are today, and how each Allegiant client can take best advantage of everything we have to offer.

The Past

In late 1997, I had the opportunity to meet Allan Barberio, then managing partner of Kerkering Barberio, CPA, PA, our sister accounting firm. Allan and the other partners (many of whom are still practicing) had started Kerkering Barberio Financial Services just a few months before I moved to Sarasota from San Francisco. I had not previously known of Kerkering Barberio, and I certainly wasn’t aware that they had started a financial services firm. When Allan finished describing the new firm and what they had in mind for expanding the investment services offered to their clients, I became convinced of its potential to do great and almost groundbreaking work, mainly because of the strength we would have combining CPAs and CFPs - and I was also convinced of my ability to grow the business. Indeed, our two firms’ professional collaboration together has been a win-win-win (clients + two firms) situation for over 20 years now.

After 10 years, we had a successful investment management business, there were a few employees, but not enough, and therefore we were still not able to offer true financial planning services. Growth was at a reasonable level, which we always kept on eye on. My goal was, and still is, to keep a golden ratio: for every 30-40 families that joined us, we would hire up so that ratio was never exceeded. I was never willing to let service standards suffer, nor the close, warm, friendly atmosphere which we cherish diminish just for the sake of growth. In fact, growth was never the goal; it was only the result from doing business the right way - with friendly, top-level expert advice and concierge-level service. Referrals came in, and we ran the business this way for many years, focusing almost exclusively on asset management with just some ancillary financial planning being offered.

Fast forward to 2018, with one name change and office expansion now behind us. It’s gratifying to see the progress we’ve made. Today, Allegiant has 13 full-time employees, over $700 million in assets under management, and over 400 families that we are blessed to take care of. The growth we’ve experienced has continued by referrals - from our clients, our CPA partners at Kerkering Barberio, and from local attorneys and other professional advisors. The golden ratio is still adhered to - 400 families/13 employees = 31 families per employee. The senior management committee is Paul Cantor, Chief Operating Officer; Ben Jones, Chief Investment Officer; Carl Watkins, Wealth Advisor Director; and myself as President. Ownership is still shared by the original partners at Kerkering Barberio in addition to our current shareholders. As mentioned above, all our growth is by referrals - we do almost no marketing and have no plans to do more. That’s what keeps us “Private Advisors.” We do support a large number of local charities, and you may see our name in one of their publications as a sponsor - look for us! That’s as close to marketing as we are comfortable with.  You will notice our continued commitment to client communications as our team shares proprietary research, market briefs, insights about financial planning topics, and community updates in the form of “Features.”

We finally had expanded to the point where we finally were able to set up internal teams that focused on specific areas of expertise, including the most important one offering financial planning. Keep in mind these teams are not client-centric in the sense that a certain team is focused on a given set of clients. These teams collaborate cross-platform in order to deliver service to every client. Clients are not “assigned” to a certain team member so much as they are served by every team member. You never hear the words “That’s not my client” at Allegiant. Every client is every team member’s client, period.  

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Internal Structure

We are divided (but united) into three teams - Client Service, Investment Research, and Wealth Advisors.

1. Client Service Team - Kristina Eastmond, Operations Manager; Helen Raymond, Senior Operations Specialist; Lynda Franklin, Executive Assistant; Maura Comerford, Operations Specialist. 

Kristina Eastmond runs this team, which is responsible for all operations, customer service requests, and compliance. You would call this team for all money transfer requests, address changes, account transfers, document handling, beneficiary changes, file management and more. Any service request is routed through and executed by them. 

2. Investment Research Team - Ben Jones, CFP, AIF; Paul Cantor, CFA, AIF, CFP; Luke Nicholas, CFA, Portfolio Manager; Cameron Dees, Research Assistant (currently a Level 1 CFA).

Ben Jones runs this team as Chief Investment Officer, but the whole team shares responsibility for setting overall investment policy, managing client accounts (which are customized and managed on an individual basis, unlike other large investment houses where client accounts are managed on a much less work-intensive aggregated basis), and researching macro-economic trends. You can contact anyone on this team for specific questions about your investment portfolio, or any general piece of investment-related information. Someone from the IR team typically sits in on client meetings to review any investment related questions. 

3. Wealth Advisor Team - Carl Watkins, CFP, CDFA, AIF; Elizabeth Stephen, CFP, AIF, CTFA, Wealth Advisor; Melissa Walsh, CFP, CFA, Wealth Advisor; Kristina Vorndran, Wealth Advisor Assistant.  

Finally, a true financial planning team with depth and talent to spare. Carl Watkins runs this team as Wealth Advisor Director. The Wealth Advisors conduct all financial planning services, doing analyses on a wide range of personal financial issues, including estate planning, retirement planning, family financial standards, preparing heirs, divorce work, risk mitigation (insurance, including consulting on health, long-term care, and Medicare options) and more. This team is the heart of our professional client advisory services, and a Wealth Advisor is usually asked to sit in on every client meeting so that the client can get the best advice on a wide range of issues.

These three teams are highly collaborative and do not work as silos. In fact, collaboration is key to our internal structure, and internal competition is shunned upon. In addition, no advisor operates in a silo as a solo practitioner, and every client can feel comfortable reaching out to anyone at Allegiant. 

It’s important to remember that these teams are not a random offshoot of our growth - they were in fact specifically what we wanted to achieve by growing. It was always my goal to develop the strength necessary to organize ourselves into teams of experts. When we were a smaller company, we could not offer the depth and breadth of services we do today, and now we believe we are the largest independent fiduciary-level advisor in the Gulf Coast region doing comprehensive wealth management. We have tremendous talent on staff now, addressing both common and complex financial issues facing each family. We simply did not have that capability before. Now we do, and it’s my goal to make sure every client has available to them everything they need from us to be as successful as possible. I invite you to inquire specifically about your family if you have not done so lately - I think you’ll fully understand what we now have to offer, and how you can benefit from all of it.  This was always the main purpose of our growth. 

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The Future

At this point, we have the staff necessary to operate as a fiduciary advisor with a deep talent pool and expert level of skill and experience. Being a fiduciary is one of the characteristics of Allegiant that sets us apart. In addition, we are an independent operator, selling or representing no company or product. We are not compensated by commissions, and every staff member is on salary and bonus, including myself.  

As for the future, let me be clear: we have no plans to grow for the sake of growing. We have no interest in being bigger if that does not serve our main mission of being the company that sets the bar for fiduciary financial advice. We hopefully will continue to grow, of course, as we have the staff and the capacity, but mostly because we continue to receive referrals, which is a great honor that we never take for granted. We have minimums we try to use as a guideline for new clients ($1 million in investable assets, or someone needing advanced financial planning) but if someone is referred to us, especially by a client, we won’t turn them away, no matter their situation.

We have no plans to acquire another planning business (we honestly don’t think there’s a local firm that meets all our standards and requirements that we’d be interested in) and more importantly, we will never sell to anyone else, either. I remain the largest shareholder, but that will change as I start to sell shares to the other employees and next-generation owners. My personal intent was to create a business that frankly did not depend on me. I wanted to make sure I was redundant, and that we had other redundancies built in as well. In case I retire (not likely), or that wayward bus comes along and takes me out (more unlikely, I hope), we will be able to continue to serve clients. With uber-smart younger colleagues around me eager to buy in to the business, I don’t have to worry about our business continuing to offer great advice to our clients.

Allegiant Private Advisors was so named because I hoped to connote the image of a loyal, strong guardian that protects our clients from harm. I hope this brief history and explanation of Allegiant makes clear where we’ve been and what we are trying to achieve. Our level of commitment to our clients is unwavering, and what drives us is the desire to perform at our professional best levels. By doing so, we hope to become each client’s most-trusted financial advisor, certainly an exalted status not easily earned. 

Let us know if there’s something more we can bring to bear for your own personal situation. As you can tell, we are ready to help. 

If you have any questions or comments feel free to reach out to me directly via email.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Best always,

Martin J. Kossoff, CFP®, AIF®
President, Principal


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