In an age of specialization, the founders of Signature, a wealth management firm in Norfolk and Charlottesville, Va., decided early on to spread their knowledge around a little.

Anne B. Shumadine, chairman, and Susan R. Colpitts, executive vice president, wanted to target high-net-worth clients with a minimum of $5 million in investable assets and also wanted to serve as family offices for several families with $25 million or more in investable assets-all under one practice.

They set out to design a business model to do this about 15 years ago, when there was little precedent for serving the two different clienteles and when there also were few firms that served as a family office to more than one family. 

"The drum beat of the industry was that the segments are not well served in this way," says G. Randolph Webb Jr., Signature president and CEO. But we knew from experience that this was a great business model because of the opportunity to share ideas and infrastructure and to create solutions that are useful for all client families.

"We believe that our firm helps clients realize their wealth's potential and that has an impact at the individual level, the family level and the community level," he adds. "If we are able to work with more families, we can have a broader impact on the community."

Shumadine, a lawyer, and Colpitts, a CPA/PFS, started from diverse points before they created what they feel is a unique service that benefits both the affluent and those on a higher wealth scale who need family office services.

Shumadine was an advisor and attorney to high-net-worth families. Among her other credentials, she was selected as one of the overseers for former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's blind trusts. Although knowledgeable in finances, she was primarily an attorney during the first part of her career.

At the same time, Colpitts was building her résumé as a tax, trust and estate expert.  Starting in the accounting department of Price Waterhouse, she later became a tax consultant with the law firms of Shumadine & Rose PC and then for McCandlish Holton PC as an individual income and estate tax expert. 

Shumadine and Colpitts, who met through shared clients, began combining estate planning, income tax work and in-depth planning for wealthy clients.

"We realized many wealthy working families did not have good financial planning," Colpitts recalls. "They built their wealth and at about $5 million it started getting complicated. They either did not know what to do or put it off. At that point, our practice sort of took on a life of its own. We left the law firm work completely, started Signature in 1994 and started working with the rich using a holistic approach for their finances, philanthropy, estate planning, income taxes and investment solutions."