Entity

Independent RIA

Location

Rochester, New York

Year Founded

2002

AUM

$165 million

Staff

4

Service Offering

Tax Planning, Wealth Management

Joined Mercer Advisors

2017

Motivation

Principal seeking operational scale and expanded resources to better serve their clients

Wealth Design Services (WDS) was a thriving advisory firm founded 15 years ago by former public accountant Steven Schwartz. His vision for WDS was to create an integrated wealth management firm that included a focus on tax planning to complement financial and investment planning so that individual investors would be able to best optimize their financial resources.

“I really enjoyed working with individuals; however, my career had been focused on businesses,” Steven said. “So when I discovered the fee-only wealth management side of financial services, I felt that it would tap into my educational background and passion for working with people.”

Serving a Niche Audience

Steven’s expertise centered around helping investors who had “finished saving” make the best decisions around how to efficiently withdraw their assets to fund their retirement goals. “Our approach was to help investors not make mistakes when withdrawing money so they wouldn’t run out of their assets – a very different advisory firm from those that mostly focused on growing assets through investing,” he noted.

Steven built a unique business model that focused on tax planning and how that can make a difference in investor outcomes, particularly during the withdrawal stage of their financial lives. “The challenge as I saw it was to find a way to practice differently that was not cookie-cutter. Each client has a different need, so we designed our practice to serve this particular niche, and this differentiator helped us stand out from all the other advisors out there,” Steven said.

This approach served Steven well, and he was able to grow the business to $165 million in AUM with one additional advisor and a small support staff.

Planning for Retirement as a Business Owner

As Steven reached his 60s, he felt that it was a good time to start exploring strategic options. “After 10 years or so, I felt I had done a good job of building the practice, but also knew that I had taken it as far as I could and needed to start planning for what was next. I felt that we were at a crossroads.”

Steven then spent the next 4 years experimenting with the idea of bringing in another advisor to fuel the growth of his firm and potentially become a successor. “At that stage in my life and experience, I genuinely believed that we could still grow organically, but we just didn’t have the resources to develop new ways for what we were doing, to create the efficiencies needed,” he said.

Steven also brought in an M&A consultant to evaluate his firm. The advice that he received was to “shed the tax practice and just focus on investment management.” This was anathema to Steven so he continued to search for options. “The consultant just didn’t understand our business or what we wanted to do.”

The Clear Choice

It was at this stage that Steven was introduced to Mercer Advisors. “In today’s world of aggregation and pressure to do more with fewer resources, it was impressive to me that I found an organization that understood the value of deep client relationships and investments in the technology and systems to best service clients,” Steven said.

Steven was excited that he had found a deeply resourced partner that had a similar model focused on client service. Additionally, due to his tax expertise, Schwartz is actively working with other advisors to provide support and significantly enhance Mercer Advisors’ overall tax services.

A New Chapter of Working and Serving Clients

Steven has been impressed with how smooth and speedy the partnership with Mercer Advisors has taken hold. “While the process has been much quicker than I thought, the approach has been gradual and sensitive enough so that clients have not been disrupted,” Steven noted.

“Even though I am now 65, I have no retirement plans. I love what I do and feel fortunate to be able to continue to build the practice with the added resources and support of Mercer Advisors,” he added. “Had I not done the deal with Mercer, I would have had to shrink my tax practice, an outcome I was not looking forward to.”

Mercer Advisors Benefit to Wealth Design Services
  • A comprehensive succession solution, ensuring the continuity of their firm
  • Expanded resources to better serve clients, including investment management, estate and tax planning, family office services, comprehensive back office services and support
Wealth Design Services Benefits for Mercer Advisors
  • Addition of senior advisory talent with deep tax expertise
  • Exposure and addition of a niche client audience
  • Experienced advisors and professionals

Looking for partnership solutions?

We help RIAs with growth, succession planning or exit strategies. We offer a myriad of solutions to help take care of and service existing clients. Speak with our Vice President of Business Development, William Perysian.

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