Offering investment advice alongside estate and tax planning wasn't always the common practice that it is nowadays. In fact, attorney and CPA Richard E. Thibodeau, the 61-year-old managing director of Filomeno Wealth Management LLC in West Hartford, Conn., remembers that his professional goal circa 1990-to advise successful individuals about their investments, taxes and estates, and to serve as a financial coach to them-was way outside the box. Thibodeau, a graduate of West Point, had become a tax partner at Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) and the big accounting firms of the day wanted nothing to do with the investment business. They were leery of the potential liability.
Still, demand existed, Thibodeau knew. As head of the executive services group in Coopers & Lybrand's Hartford office, he saw firsthand that high-income clients could benefit from advice that synced their investments to their tax and estate plans. So after tax season in 1992, Thibodeau split C&L to go solo. It was the initial step in a long, sometimes tortuous trek that has turned his dream practice into reality.
First, A State-Registered Advisor
He registered his consultancy, dubbed Thibodeau Financial Advisors, as an investment advisor with the Connecticut Department of Banking. He didn't intend to manage money. "I simply charged an hourly rate for providing investment advice, primarily developing asset allocation strategies and selecting mutual funds to implement those strategies."
Early clients were individuals who came over with him from Coopers. Referrals from these clients and attorneys flowed naturally. In some respects, he was working with his clientele as a tax accountant might. "We would get together once a year and there would be little contact until the next year."
And that's how Thibodeau practiced for a dozen years. It was a successful period for him. Too successful, in fact. With a mountain of profitable work occupying him 24-7, he became concerned about maintaining quality service.
To prevent the practice from buckling under the workload, Thibodeau knew he needed professional and administrative support.
Rather than hire and manage his own staff (which didn't play to his strengths or preferences), he decided to try joining up with an organization that had the resources he needed already in place. Thus he engaged a former colleague from his C&L days as a consultant to identify potential merger candidates, be they investment advisory shops, CPA practices or law firms, in the Hartford area.
"I would only consider organizations that had demonstrated some interest in providing investment advisory services," Thibodeau vowed, never forgetting the constraints he faced at Coopers. He was in no mood now for any partners who might resist his ambition to offer investment advice.
Thibodeau hoped a merger would make him a big fish in a small sea. But joining a leviathan like C&L was out of the question. "I wanted to go somewhere I thought I could make an impact."
His C&L consultant presented a fact sheet about the firm (without using its name) to Tom Filomeno, president of Filomeno & Co., a 40-person accounting firm whose eight principals were registered representatives of a broker-dealer. The team at Filomeno wasn't actively seeking a merger when contacted by Thibodeau's friend, but took a closer look at Thibodeau's firm when they understood what he was seeking.
"We saw the numbers and were excited," Tom Filomeno says. "We also liked the type of business it was. Most accounting firms, including us, primarily handle businesses. Rick was handling mostly individuals, and we really liked the combination of things he was doing for them. It was unusual."
When Thibodeau merged his practice into Filomeno & Co. on November 1, 2004, the first order of business was clear. Three individuals from the Filomeno side were tapped to start spending time in the new Thibodeau-led investment advisory division, and they had to get up to speed. Thibodeau wanted his cadre to be as expert in investments as they were in tax and other traditional CPA services.