Planning For The Long Run

Lowry Hill feels like its ability to simplify the lives of affluent families is why clients rarely leave.

Like a lot of wealth management firms, Lowry Hill of Minneapolis can throw out some impressive numbers in describing itself. There's the firm's $6 billion-plus in managed assets, for example, or the 330 affluent families it has as clients spread out across 40 states.

Talk to the people who run the firm, however, and there's another number that they prefer to cite first: 98.

The number doesn't even refer to money. It's a reference to the fact that the firm has attained a 98% retention rate when it comes to keeping its clients.

That, says Managing Principal James P. Steiner, is something Lowry Hill is more proud of than any investment returns or asset gains.

"Once a client comes here, they typically don't leave," Steiner says. The number one reason clients leave, in fact, is death. And even in those cases, the client's beneficiaries keep the assets with Lowry Hill more than half the time.

When asked to explain the firm's high retention rate, principals at the firm cite a number of reasons. These include the fact that all 18 of the firm's principals handle clients, with each principal limited to no more than 25 to 30 clients. The firm's trust and estate planning services also come into play, as do its investments-stylized groupings of single company stocks that have consistently beat their respective benchmarks.

Indeed, Lowry Hill also has pondered the basis for its own retention rate. It conducted focus groups five years ago to explore the question. What the firm found was that there is no one thing that clients like most.

It is the accumulation of all the firm's services, says Stephanie Prem, the firm's chief marketing officer and a principal. "The interesting common denominator there is that clients seem to feel we do an incredible job of simplifying their financial lives," she says. "We make a lot of the financial details very seamless to the client."

Making the financial lives of affluent families simpler was actually one of the objectives behind the creation in 1986 of what is now Lowry Hill. At the time, the ten founding principals of the firm were all employees of Norwest Bank, which had been working on a strategy to spin off its capital management group.

Today, Lowry Hill is one of several bank-owned advisory firms providing comprehensive wealth management services that rival the top independent firms. Now a subsidiary of Wells Fargo, Lowry Hill has undergone several changes in ownership since the 1980s without losing its focus. Other banks getting into this game include The Harris and Mellon Financial.

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