Richard Coppa and Darin Gartland, the founders of Wealth Health LLC, were asked a standard question during a recent conference call: How many people are in your firm? The answer was far from standard.
"You are talking to them," Coppa replied, with a chuckle. "We get asked that all the time, but there is just Darin and I."
No receptionist, office manager, data downloading intern, compliance officer, Web site designer or secretary is on the payroll. Although the firm relies partially on the advice and guidance of an experienced advisory board who volunteer their time, Wealth Health (www.WealthHealthLLC.com), based in Roseland, N.J., has become one of the fastest-growing boutique RIA firms in the nation, and their success is due in large part to the fact that the entire firm consists of only the two partners.
"We outsource everything. Even our office is outsourced. What we will not outsource is our expertise and our relationship with the clients," says Coppa.
Coppa and Gartland, who started their partnership after working together for many years with another independent advisory firm advising high-net-worth individuals, feel other firms can learn from their experience at building a successful business. According to a 2007 survey of independent RIA firms throughout the nation, Wealth Health has a client base that ranks in the top 25% by average account size, is the fastest-growing wealth management firm in New Jersey of those with under $100 million in assets under management and is nationally the 11th fastest-growing firm in that asset category.
The two advise clients who have at least $1 million to invest, and the average account size for clients is more than $2 million. Clients are concentrated in New Jersey, New York, California and Florida, but the firm serves those all over the country. Wealth Health's high-net-worth clients, mostly executives, wealthy retirees and business owners, tend to be demanding and expect exceptional service, so Coppa and Gartland devote 100% of their time to cultivating and serving clients.
"We do not want to spend our time managing an office and employees," says Coppa. "We also do not want to spend our time reconciling data or preparing tax returns for clients. At the same time, we have to provide a wide range of services for our clients. Could we learn to do all of those other things? Of course. But it would take time away from what we do best, which is giving financial advice to clients."
Wealth Health does financial planning, handles investments, prepares income taxes, and does estate, retirement and insurance planning. The partners, listed as managing directors of Wealth Health, are both certified financial planners. Coppa has a law degree from Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey and a master's of law in taxation from New York University's School of Law. He practiced for years as a tax attorney before entering the RIA business. Gartland has an MBA from New York University's Stern School of Business. The two share duties at Wealth Health, including managing the firm and handling client relationships, while each has his specialty with regard to taxes, cash flow, retirement and estate planning and investment allocations.
When the two decided to set out on their own from the larger firm where they met, they decided to keep the new business as streamlined as possible and to cultivate clients nationwide, rather than concentrating on their home base. Even the name was selected to reflect a firm that could be located anywhere and could serve clients throughout the United States, rather than having a local focus or using the owners' names.
"Maybe you could say we are just what the doctor ordered," speculates Coppa, who adds that he and Gartland plan to continue growing their client list but have no immediate plans to increase the two-person staff. The two spent the first five months on their own searching for the right people and companies to do all the work an office staff and associates would do. They have an office in a class A professional building that has their firm's name on the door and looks as classy as it would if they owned the building.
All parts of the operation are Web-based, including the telephone and voice mail, so that callers are directed straight to personal voice mail and calls can be picked up anywhere to be returned in a short time. "We return calls immediately and no one knows if we are in California or Texas or somewhere else where we have a lot of clients, or if we are in our office," says Coppa.
The two took several clients with them from their prior firm when they created Wealth Health and have increased the practice through referrals and word of mouth since then. They started in April 2004 and had $20 million under management by the end of that year. That has now grown to nearly $115 million, and they plan to continue this growth through future acquisitions and succession plans.
They found a firm to outsource a professional-looking Web site and are currently creating a Web-based center so clients can log in for updates. They hired a company to do their data reconciliation and another firm to prepare clients' taxes, but the two maintain responsibility for final review and signature on the clients' returns. The office space is rented month-to-month so the firm could expand and move if needed, but right now their fellow tenants are exactly the type of professionals they wish to know, including real estate, Medicaid and general practice attorneys.
"It's like we have them on our payroll and vice versa. We can just walk down the hall and talk to them," Coppa says.
Gartland says a lot of little two- or three-person advisory firms outsource some of their functions, but they often don't provide the full suite or depth of services that Wealth Health does. "Our clients are high net worth. They expect a lot of service, and we have the time to give it to them, because we do not have to deal with overseeing employees or hiring and firing," he adds.
William Denby, an executive with a small California biotech company, swears by Wealth Health. "I don't know how they do it; I just know they get everything I need done. They are motivated by a desire to make me happy and they deliver a personal sense of service."
Denby worked with Gartland and Coppa at their former firm, but did not transfer to Wealth Health immediately. "I did not have them for about a year, and I could not wait to get back to them. I don't notice that they don't have a staff of people. I just know I make the wealth and they preserve it," says Denby.
Jim Wagar, a retired executive in New Jersey who was the firm's first client, says his personal relationship with Coppa and Gartland is what keeps him satisfied. "I don't care how they run their operation," Wagar says. "They provide up-to-date quarterly financial reports and they would do monthly if I wanted it. It is hard to find people at their level who handle your affairs personally."
Coppa and Gartland say that this personal touch is possible because they are not distracted by other duties, whether the client is nearby in New Jersey or in California or Texas. The two meet with clients three or four times a year, no matter what the location. Not only does outsourcing free the two to travel, they say it saves them money.
"If we had to hire two young people to download and reconcile data, it would be $35,000 each in salaries, plus benefits and $1,000 a month for office space, so that is more than $100,000 a year right there. Instead, we pay $14,000 for the service from a firm that does it for hundreds of advisors," Coppa says.
"You have to think of the kinds of people who are financial advisors. They are hands-on people, so sometimes they have a hard time delegating," Coppa warns, "But this is what has made us successful."
Wealth Health has to provide a range of services from taxes to estate planning to insurance advice. "But if we hired a tax preparer, he would be sitting here half the time twiddling his thumbs, so we outsource it," Gartland says.
Wealth Health uses Fidelity for investments because of the extra measure of support it provides for advisors and its low fees. The pair hires money managers to handle the transactions, but each person's portfolio is customized with stocks, bonds and alternative investments, depending on the client's needs, and nothing that affects the client's financial well-being is ever transacted without Coppa or Gartland first reviewing it. Clients can bring any type of financial concern to the pair.
"We have a high-level executive in a large pharmaceutical company in New Jersey who was approached by a smaller company that wanted to hire him and he did not know what to do," Coppa says. "We reviewed his assets, compensation and benefits package and prepared financial projections. His money is not well allocated now, and we have to change that, but we found he has enough money to go to a smaller company, to retire, to become a consultant, or do anything he wants. He is a brilliant chemist but he does not really understand the financial side. He said it was like a weight being lifted off his shoulders knowing he could make any decision he wants and he won't have to worry about money."
Coppa and Gartland tell clients to copy them on all legal documents and not sign anything without their knowledge. "We know our clients better than their estate attorney or other legal advisor," Coppa says, "but we do not second-guess the money manager on investments. We select the money managers for the asset class and let them make the investments."
Because of the net worth of Wealth Health clients, many have separately managed accounts with a mix of money managers. No one money manager handles more than 10% to 15 % of a client's assets. The returns on investment portfolios differ since the firm customizes its portfolios according to each client's circumstances.
Coppa and Gartland are paid strictly by fees from clients, and these fees range from 1% for up to $2 million in assets, to 75 basis points for $2 million to $4 million in assets and to 50 basis points for more than $4 million.
"We participate in mortgage decisions, life insurance or college costs, but we do not get paid by anyone other than the client," Gartland says. "A lot of firms outsource some things, but few do it to the extent we do, and they often do not offer the kind of services we can provide because we have a client base that demands it and we have the time to do it."