Ballentine Partners is a wealth management firm with roots in an unusual institution: a summer camp.

Camp Kehonka, founded in 1902, brought girls to the southeast shore of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire to swim and make handicrafts. In 1910, a young man named A.C. Ballentine applied for a job there. No position was open, but the camp’s founder invited him to visit for a week. Ballentine ended up staying for the rest of his life, becoming owner and director of the camp. “He went as a guest and he never left,” his son Roy Ballentine says.

In trying to hang onto the camp, the family used capable advisers on taxes and trusts, Ballentine says. Yet the advisers tended to narrowly focus on their areas of specialty and were stumped by questions about strategy, Bloomberg Markets will report in its March issue.

Ballentine, who had been a computer salesman for International Business Machines Corp., says he was unable to find an investment advisory firm that could provide the broad, strategic counsel his family needed. So he decided to create one -- the wealth manager that became Ballentine Partners.

The main idea of the firm, says Ballentine, who is chairman and CEO, is to harness financial planning to investing. Ballentine Partners, which is based in Waltham, Massachusetts, now oversees $5 billion for 154 families and individuals, with an average net worth of about $50 million.

Coventry Edwards-Pitt, the firm’s chief wealth advisory officer, says that Ballentine serves only families with taxable income, not foundations or other institutions. “We care very much about taxes,” she says. “It governs how we do everything.”

‘Like Kind’ Trade

As an example, Edwards-Pitt points to the market crash in 2008. Ballentine’s clients invest in the U.S. equities market via exchange-traded funds. When the market was near its bottom, Ballentine had them sell those funds and buy into “like kind” ETFs, which they then rode back up. “We were able to capture all of those taxable losses for our clients,” she says, referring to tax laws that allow investors to carry losses forward over multiple years.

Ballentine doesn’t pool client assets, Edwards-Pitt, 38, says. Each family’s investments are tailored to their needs, she says. (One consequence is that Ballentine isn’t allowed to report investment results except in one-on-one meetings, she says.)

Chief Investment Officer Will Braman says the firm’s investing approach is based on four building blocks: equities, fixed income, real assets and alternatives. The firm employs 24 financial planners that help each family set allocations to those areas based on their need for income, liquidity and willingness to take risks.