Vinton Fountain opened a fee-only investment advisory shop about ten years ago, after spending 16 years in the bank trust business. It made him an old pro around trusts. The distinction, and the firm's ability to navigate trusts, has become a calling card to wealthier families in the Wilmington, N.C., area, where Fountain Financial Associates is located. "We just had a family whose elderly parent died and they were unhappy with the 800-number relationship they were given by the bank trustee," says Fountain, who is the president of his firm. "They came to us and we ended up acquiring not only the $2 million trust, but another $10 million the family had in brokerage assets."
How did the wealthy family find Fountain Financial Associates? Through an estate-planning attorney the firm networks with at lunches and after-work meetings. "If you can deliver this solution to the high-net-worth space, attorneys and CPAs will love you and your numbers will get bigger," says Fountain, who is affiliated with ING and uses ING Trust for clients' estate-planning needs. "When you address the need for trusts, you increase your position as your clients' primary provider. You're not a broker or product provider, you're the CFO or coach of their global relationships. Now you're dealing with multiple generations. You're hired to help them develop and implement their plan and transfer their wealth. You can see how that expands the tenure of your relationship," he adds.
Fountain has discovered what advisors, broker-dealers and trust companies are also finding: The greater your trust expertise, the more likely you are to attract higher-net-worth clients, greater assets and stickier client relationships. You can either build it in-house by hiring talented trust bankers or build an outsourced team of specialists.
ING Trust assets grew by 25% to $270 million through June 28, Susan Anderson, president of ING Trust, said during the Trust University the firm held before the start of its National Planning Conference outside Washington, D.C., this summer. "This meeting was a huge success," Anderson said. "Typically we get 30 advisors or so. This year we got 100." ING Trust has just added four employees, including a national trust officer, to ramp up for the growth the firm expects to see in the trust arena. "We're targeting the advisors who do more in-depth wealth planning. Our job is to make them look good and keep them central to the client relationship.
Right now, Fountain estimates that 50% of the $225 million his eight-person firm manages came in the door because of the firm's trust work and 20% of AUM is already in trusts. "This has really helped us to compete and differentiate ourselves," Fountain says. "Investment performance is no longer enough. Clients want to be able to protect their assets for the next generation and successfully transfer them. How we do that and help them dramatically save on taxes now and in the future is how I believe we deliver the most value to our clients."
Bruce Merrell, vice president of financial planning at United Advisors, a five-office advisory firm, agrees. "I still feel that some of the greatest value we can add is with our trust work," says Merrell, an advisor and attorney who oversees planning for the firm's offices in Florida, New Jersey, New York, Michigan and Ohio.
Merrell says that more and more clients who want to control their money are seeking advisors who work routinely with trusts. "Boomers are coming in with more money that they control because of defined contribution plans. They have actual assets, but they also have more complications, like multiple and mixed families. Many want to provide for the second wife or husband, but want to make sure the money goes to their own kids and not the spouse's," he says.
With trust assets growing as much as 30% in the past year, trust companies and broker-dealers are adding resources, technology and training to encourage advisors to work more deeply to find and create client trusts. "We continue to develop a very robust trust offering that will include the rollout of our new workstation, Wealth Central, which will have trust reporting integrated," says Ron Fisk, executive vice president for Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services. "So far, we're seeing lots of advisors support and move existing trusts. The real training comes in with new trusts and trusts that are being implemented. We've seen trusts services growing at 30% to more than $270 billion in assets in the past 12 rolling months," he adds. "We're excited by the clients advisors are bringing in. The nature of the client, their high affluence level and age, reflects the marketplace's needs, and we want to make sure we're one step ahead."
To help advisors oversee the highly technical and complex nature of trusts for their clients, Fidelity Institutional has in-house experts who work with individual advisors on large cases. The firm has also developed a network of local trust organizations that can help advisors get up to speed.
"We're seeing a lot of wealth managers become interested," Fisk says. "Advisors are being taken into trusts because that's where the marketplace is taking them. It leads to a significant relationship with investors. The ongoing challenge is training and education."
The Private Trust Company (PTC), owned by LPL Financial, has grown about 15% annually and now provides trust administration services for $67 billion in assets. PTC doesn't provide investment management services; it allows clients to delegate that function to their financial advisors. "Trusts are a natural fit because over the past couple years, our high-net-worth clients have increased about 80%," says CEO Christopher Poch. "I met with a client the other day who is worth $2.5 billion."