Jeanie Wyatt has made some abrupt changes in her life during a long and successful career in the financial industry. At the age of 58, she has had two dramatically successful careers in money management-one with a bank and one on her own.
She started out in college studying theater arts with the intention of directing children's theater. But she abandoned her first career choice after making outstanding scores on her college entrance exams in mathematics, which led the math department of the University of Texas at Austin to recruit her. She ended up majoring in actuarial science, a particularly difficult course of study, and she graduated with honors.
Instead of going into insurance, like most actuarial science graduates, she took a job with Frost Bank Services in San Antonio and gravitated into money management, where she built a successful career and notable reputation in the industry.
Still, she had a hankering to start her own business. She wanted to use the same ideas that had propelled her to the top at Frost Bank to build a successful independent career. She quit the bank in 2000 and founded South Texas Money Management Ltd. in San Antonio where, in the past ten years as the firm's CEO and chief investment officer, she has surpassed the success of her first career.
South Texas Money Management (STMM) started with five people, including two from Frost Bank, and $125 million in assets under management. It now has 55 employees, including 20 financial professionals, and approximately $1.9 billion in assets under management. Her assets grew 14% last year, while her clientele grew by 30% to about 1,300 relationships, including high-net-worth individuals, families, foundations, institutions, not-for-profit organizations, pension funds and endowments.
"Almost every money manager or financial planner working for someone else harbors a fantasy of starting their own business," Wyatt says in a Southern drawl. "We built our firm for growth, so it is not the growth itself that surprises me, but the wonderful people we have been able to gather here. We are actually well staffed, and that is the way our business has always been built. It has to be if you believe this is a service business."
The firm's success is built on the same talent that enabled Wyatt to build the trust department at the bank from $750 million when she started to $13 billion when she left as executive vice president 19 years later.The bank allowed her to try out some of her entrepreneurial ideas, which she carried over into her own business. But it's unlikely the bank allowed her to give away services for free. At STMM, about 25% of clients request and receive financial planning, which is offered as a complimentary service to all clients.
Wyatt also has MBA and CFA credentials, and she has CFPs on staff. She keeps extra staff on board to provide extra service for existing clients and to be ready for the acquisition of more clients.
"I was just always motivated to do what I thought would help us grow and be competitive," she says. At the bank, she started a hedging program to help major investors diversify their portfolios without tax penalties, an initiative she says was "a little revolutionary at the time." She also created the position of mutual fund analyst, another innovation.
The free financial planning falls into that same category. "Providing financial planning as a service for some helps assure we are putting them in the right mix of assets," Wyatt says. "We do not have any fee incentive for financial planning. That is kind of different.
"We offer a core equity style," she says. "The objective is to outperform the S&P 500 index net of fees on an annualized basis over a three- to five-year period with less volatility than the index during the period."
The goal for STMM is to give its clients the control they want over their money and to give them transparency. "It is amazing how many people do not know what they have in investments or what fees they are paying," Wyatt says. "It happens all the time that people come in here and think they are diversified because they have several money managers or planners and lots of different investments. Instead, it turns out their money managers are all in the same kinds of assets-sometimes even in the very same stocks-and the client is not truly diversified at all."
New clients bring their own set of issues with them. "People come in who do not know what they are paying or they have annuities or other investments that they do not know if they should continue to pay or if they should change them," she says. "Transparency is the key to knowing those answers."
STMM puts clients in a mix of growth and value investments to weather up and down markets and puts a lot of assets in liquid investments. The core of her philosophy of equity investments is buying both value and growth stocks for the firm's portfolios. This allows investors to participate in market cycles set by value or growth, but with less volatility.
"Life can change. The market can change. That is why we emphasize liquidity," Wyatt explains. "A structured, disciplined mix of value stock and growth assets are generally good hedges for one another."
Wyatt and her staff want the clients to know what they hold and what they are paying for. The typical client has between $1.5 million and $2 million in assets, although the minimum investment is $500,000, and $20 million is not unusual. "A lot of our clients are women, entrepreneurs, retirees and young professionals-the whole gamut really," Wyatt says.
Fees start at $5,000 a year and go down on a sliding scale from 1% for up to $2 million, 0.5% for $2 million to $8 million and 0.35% above $10 million. "Below $1 million is retail, and there is a lot of competition for those smaller investors," Wyatt says. Above $20 million is institutional, and there is a lot of competition for that business. She explains that the intermediate segment includes many people who are turning to professional management services after seeing their portfolios rise dramatically in value from the booming stock market through much of the 1990s and then living through two bear markets.
"Because of that volatility, we want to give them back the transparency and control they were losing or never had. We are able to do that, which is why we have grown so much," Wyatt says. "We do not commingle clients' assets."
Current technology enables the firm to manage each account separately. "Individuals want to have ownership of their securities and want to be aware of what is being bought and sold," she says. "They also want tax efficiencies, and those are hard to achieve with mutual funds alone. They do not want a surprise when the taxman comes at the end of the year."
Madelon Yanta Leone, CFA, a senior investment advisor, is one of the staff members who help Wyatt communicate with clients. Leone, who started as a part-timer ten years ago after meeting Wyatt in the banking world, deals mostly with high-net-worth clients. She has increased her hours since then and is grateful she accepted the original part-time position from Wyatt when there were only a handful of employees at the firm.
Leone worked for Merrill Lynch Capital Markets in Dallas where she was the institutional equities sale administrator responsible for disseminating fundamental and technical research to clients, as well as trading stocks, options and convertible bonds. She met Wyatt in that world and saw her as an outstanding portfolio manager.
"I respect how Jeanie manages money and strives to construct a properly diversified and disciplined portfolio," Leone says. "We blend value stocks and growth stocks into one portfolio, and then large and mid-cap with some small cap to even out the mix.
"On the fixed-income side, it is pretty plain vanilla," she adds. "We have high-quality bonds with a short stay that we put in for low risk. This helps dampen the volatility and maintain the value of the portfolio."
The mix won South Texas Money Management a place on the Lipper "Top 40 Money Managers" list for March 2011. STMM was also named one of the "Top Guns of the Decade" by Informa Investment Solutions in February 2011, and Wyatt was named one of the top 100 independent advisors in Barron's in both 2010 and 2011.
Wyatt became an industry leader when she was elected to the 19-member board of governors for the International Association for Investment Management and Research (currently the CFA Institute), an organization of more than 100,000 investment professionals, shortly after starting STMM.
In some of these roles, Wyatt is one of the few women. There are still far more men than women in the field, which Wyatt says she really does not understand because, "This is a great profession for women."
Many of the firm's clients are also women, and the STMM staff is not above a little hand-holding in the beginning of a relationship. The firm's managers meet with a client as often as once a quarter in the first year of the relationship. After that, it is hoped enough trust has been gained that the client will let STMM do its job. The firm has had less than 10% turnover in clients a year for the past five years.
STMM services some not-for-profit organizations and institutions, which are handled by Mary Hime, the firm's institutional business development officer. Hime already had her personal finances handled by STMM before she joined the staff. She previously worked in the government relations department at USAA, the San Antonio-based financial services company that serves the military. She says she even moved to Israel at one point for a year before she joined STMM and never looked at her financial statements.
"A friend expressed surprise that I did not check up on them, but I hired STMM to manage the money so I would not have to think about it," Hime says. "That is exactly what I did."
And that is what she says she tries to do for her nonprofit clients. Nonprofits and institutions have the same goals as any client, says Hime, which is to protect and grow their wealth without a lot of worry. "We have two investment advisors on every account, and we always try to call our clients about any market situation before they call us," she says.
Communication is also important at STMM to ward off fear and uncertainty. Wyatt says the firm stays in touch with clients at all times-not hiding when times are bad or ignoring clients when times are good. Although she seldom thinks of her abandoned career in children's theater, she feels her background there has heightened her communication skills.
Wyatt is proud of the fact that the majority of professionals at the firm are women. Part of STMM's growth came from the takeover of two women-owned companies, one in Austin five years ago and one in Dallas three years ago. STMM also has an office in Houston.
Although she has nearly 30 years in the business, work is still enjoyable to Wyatt. Working through clients' portfolios and surprising them with results is still fun, she says. "I like when I can clear away the smoke by showing a client he or she can be much more diversified with far fewer holdings than they currently have and thereby simplify their portfolios," she says.
For a time, Wyatt wrote a newspaper column called "More Than Money," aimed at people who normally do not read the business pages. In it, she tried to bring some humor to personal finance. That job has now been taken over by STMM's president and chief economist, Jim Kee. His weekly e-mail, "Smart Points," still aims at the average consumer and his message tries to explain and dispel the gloom-and-doom headlines.
The STMM staff also tries to stay connected by giving back to the community. Right now, they are on a mission to replant trees after deadly wildfires caused by drought blew through Texas this year, destroying 2,000 homes.
Even in the face of market disasters (and natural ones), Wyatt tries to look at the good side of things. "It is one of my rules of life and work to never get discouraged. You just have to decide up front that nothing is going to get you down for long.
"Always think of the advantages you have," she says. "I even have the saying, 'Never get discouraged' written on a piece of paper I carry in my wallet. The best way to serve the clients is to be consistent. You can't get discouraged by day-to-day problems. You have to look at the big picture."