Bob Swift at TCI Wealth Management had noticed over the years that when young people wanted financial advice from people in his industry, they were often sent away. The usual advice is, “Come back when you have assets.”

“I don’t know how many times someone said to me, ‘I wish I had met you earlier,’” says Swift. “It used to drive me nuts that there is nowhere for young people who did not have a lot to invest to go for advice. They are told to go invest in a mutual fund at a wirehouse and come back when they had substantial assets.”

Swift and his colleagues at TCI in Tucson, Ariz., have set out to fill that void. About a year ago they created a program within the firm called “Aspire.” Unlike most financial advisors’ initiatives targeting the wealthy, this one looks for young people just starting to save, helping those with the ambition who may not have accumulated much yet.

Aspire by TCI ( is the advisory organization within TCI, the wealth management and planning firm. The program was first called “Not Yet Wealthy,” but Swift and his colleagues decided that it was not the kind of description that fit its members’ aspirations. The name “Aspire” is an acronym for the services the members receive: asset management, savings, portfolio management, income management and planning, risk management and estate planning.
“Reaching out to young people who have a commitment to saving before they get bad habits is something I always wanted to do,” Bob Swift says, “but we made it a formal process with Aspire.”

Most of the program’s members are under 45 and many are much younger than that. Likewise, the staff at TCI is young; half of them are under 45.

TCI was founded in 1990 by Swift as “the Conservative Investor” with an investment philosophy that no one can beat or second guess the market. Advisors at the firm, and now at Aspire, make sure people have their necessary plans in place and that such things as costs and tax liabilities are as low as possible.

Aspire charges $1,000 a year for the first two years and then charges 1% of assets. The program has taken on about 40 couples since it started a year ago and is growing rapidly. Its clients are spread across the United States and into other countries, people who found the firm through referrals and the Internet.

TCI had to put the program on hold for a while because it got too many applicants. But it has been able to handle more after adding full-time employees like Sam Swift, Bob’s son, and Valerie Odell. The firm uses Dimensional Fund Advisors for its primary funds and has Charles Schwab as its custodian.

The advisors review the Aspire members’ plans frequently but do not chase the market or try to keep up with trends. The only requirement is that the members must be committed to saving money.

“When most people first contact us, they are convinced they do not have enough money to be able to afford a financial planner,” Bob Swift says. “Then, after they hire us, they have to be convinced it is OK to call us anytime with a question.”
Aspire deals with college debt issues, refinancing mortgages and the other finances of those just starting out. “There are a lot of differences dealing with young people than dealing with more experienced investors,” says Swift.

The members are mostly young couples. To be part of the program, they have to be committed to saving or reducing their debt by $15,000 to $20,000 a year, but even that goal is very flexible. It can change or be put on hold depending on their circumstances.

“We have one person right now who lost his job, so obviously he cannot save right now, so we are waiving the requirement. I think I would even consider waiving the fee if necessary,” Swift says.

“The only commitment necessary is that they be committed to doing right by their family,” says Sam Swift, now a partner in the company and an architect of the program. He started at TCI right after college.

David and Mercedes Smith, young professionals from Tucson, feel Aspire fits right into their lifestyle. David Smith describes himself and his wife as scrooges; they have always had a commitment to saving.

The program was “a breath of fresh air,” he says. “We have growth targets and we let our money sit and grow.”
“I like the education part of [the Aspire program],” Mercedes Smith says. “They are always teaching us more ways to save and better ways to do things.”

Another member, Michael Nitido, also likes the educational part of the program.

“I had never been too knowledgeable about financial planning, and I wanted to find someone to help us at an early stage,” says the 31-year-old lawyer. His wife is a stay-at-home mom with their new baby, and they do not have a lot of money to manage.

“With the webinars and access to education, I am beginning to learn,” Nitido adds.

The firm is fee-only and would urge those who are considering a financial advisor, if they do not hire TCI, to select a fee-only advisor to avoid any conflicts.

One woman who found the firm is now an outside contractor for Aspire. She was setting up her own business to help people with debt problems and now sets up budgets for newcomers to Aspire. Two meetings with her are included in the initial package at the company’s expense. Each Aspire member gets the same treatment as a millionaire client of TCI, no matter what his or her assets are.

The firm likes people who were motivated enough to find the company on the Internet. That means they were actively engaged and concerned about their finances. Sam Swift says, “My generation is used to Googling to find answers, but with all the information out there, it can get overwhelming quickly. It is nice to have an expert on your side.”

To help teach young savers about financial issues, Aspire plans to start a three-year education program that will consist of 18 chapters or topics. Sam Swift also writes a blog about once a week on a topic that has come up at the office that the firm feels clients should be aware of.

Aspire is only part of TCI’s business, but may become a larger part as time goes on. Young people tend to refer friends more than older clients, and some of the young people have brought their parents in as clients.

TCI has six offices in the southwest with 35 employees and 12 partners. With $1.2 billion in assets under management and 1,200 clients, it has a relatively low average client asset base of about $1 million, Swift notes.

“We are committed to the clients’ success, and wealth management is only one part of what we do,” he says.