David Porter has come a long way since the early 1980s. Back then, he was a door-to-door insurance salesman, and would even pitch life insurance to the passengers sitting next to him in the carpool. To his credit, he not only made a sale to one person who originally asked him to ride along to the factory in King of Prussia, Pa., but also sold policies to two other commuters in the van as well.

But he eventually left that life behind, and 12 years ago bought Baystate Financial Services LLC, based in Boston, an affiliate of MetLife Insurance.

What makes Baystate stand out from other firms, the founder says, is its wide array of planning and business specialists on the permanent staff, positions that might otherwise be outsourced. This includes specialists in financial planning- such as estate planning, family business succession planning, elder care, special needs, asset protection, education funding, retirement planning and employee benefits-and experts in financial planning products such as life insurance, disability, insurance, health insurance, long-term care, annuities and mutual funds.

With the attorneys, accountants and others on staff, Baystate has 12 professional specialists and 12 support staffers to augment the 215 licensed advisors who provide the fee-based financial planning, fee-based management of investments, and commission-based insurance and annuities sales. (Through its brokerage firm, New England Securities, the firm has access to 42 money management firms that provide investment analysis and research.) The firm has $6.2 billion in assets under management and is converting to more fee-based services and fewer commissions, because Porter says he feels fee-based services are the future of the financial planning industry. Within three years he expects the company to be half commission-based for selling products and half fee-based for financial planning services.   

Clients seem to appreciate the research-oriented approach of Baystate. "We shy away from giving immediate answers. We want our specialists to look at the situation," Porter says. "For instance, we have a 61-year-old business owner who has sons by two marriages, one is 29 and one 5. The question was how to pass the business to the older son while still protecting the younger son, so we worked out a scenario where he bought life insurance with the younger son as the beneficiary."

Another couple was down to $3.5 million in investments to retire on from an original $5 million. They are in their mid-sixties and, given life expectancy today, were afraid of losing more. "We put them in some appropriate investments like pre-funded municipal bonds. We did dollar cost averaging and we made sure they would not be surprised later by any unexpected taxes," he explains.

Business succession planning is another area of expertise for Baystate. One of the first specialists Porter hired was Herbert K. Daroff, a lawyer, college professor and certified financial planner, who is still with Baystate. "The current market makes business succession planning more difficult," Daroff says. "A typical client comes to us to sell a business and retire. We have to maximize the net proceeds because of the low return on investments now, and minimize the taxes. For a buyer, we want to minimize his investment and realize his potential tax benefits."

Porter attributes his ability to keep his firm growing, even in an adverse economy, to the unusual structure he has developed for Baystate, with the researchers devoted solely to helping Baystate advisers, rather than being contracted by a number of firms for their services, he says. It is a notion clients like Jeffrey Bailly, president of UFP Technologies Inc. in Georgetown Mass., appreciate.

"We have 600 employees and Dave won the company business first-investing the 401(k)s and handling profit sharing. Now he does my personal financial planning as well," says Bailly. "Dave has a particular way about him. If I call with a question, he will have four other people on the phone with him to solve the problem.They are much more scientific about their approach to investing. If you take a portfolio to them, they will show you how you can get the exact same return with less risk."

Porter says Baystate's approach is not sexy. "We are conservative. We educate people so they know what they have," he says.

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