When Bud Kasper began developing his practice, he targeted corporate employees who were preparing to retire. "As so often happens, your clients direct you to things like that," he says. "I had a lot of people retiring with lump-sum distributions. It was all kind of accidental."
There's nothing accidental about Kasper's business model today. The forward-thinking founder and president of Kasper Steck Wealth Management has designed a sophisticated retirement planning and investing practice that incorporates the strategic advice and insights of some of the industry's thought leaders: CPA Ed Slott; demographics-based economic forecaster Harry Dent; Don Trone, president of the Foundation for Fiduciary Studies; and Bill Nelson, who developed the Learning Institute for Financial Executives.
Not coincidentally, Kasper Steck Wealth Management's motto is: Knowledge. Expertise. Solutions.
As Slott, "America's IRA Expert," notes: "Bud's knowledge exceeds that of the average financial advisor and that's what sets him apart. He is among the most informed advisors in the country. He has an almost unfair advantage over any would-be competitors. His clients are so lucky."
Kasper, 58, got his start with Paine Webber in 1983 after years of working as an account representative for Gillette. He joined Securities America in 1995. Last year, Kasper Steck, with $250 million under management, was ranked in Securities America's top 10 in terms of assets. Kasper runs the firm's Kansas City, Mo., office. Partner Bill Steck manages the St. Louis branch.
Kasper's office is a family affair. His wife, Peggy, is operations manager. Kasper's three oldest sons also work in the practice in the areas of portfolio research, client reviews and financial planning. Kasper calls them his "succession strategy."
Early on, Kasper became familiar with the IRS tax codes governing IRA rollovers from corporate pension plans and 401(k) plans. "Not too many people knew that much about it at the time," says Kasper, who has an average account size of $450,000. "But I had a lot of clients, the vast majority under age 59 1/2 with 30 years of service, who wanted to retire. They wouldn't have been able to do it without [knowledge of] these special provisions." One-third of Kasper's clients are telecommunications workers. Over the years, he has "retired" hundreds of them, transferring lump-sum pensions and 401(k) plans into personal rollover IRAs.
Kasper's business has grown, basically, by word of mouth. It doesn't hurt that he holds retirement workshops, at no charge, for major corporations that offer lump sums for consideration as people retire. A CFP, Kasper was also the two-term president of Heart of America Society of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners and the first chairman of the Financial Planning Association of Greater Kansas City. He's been a media source for USA Today, The Journal of Financial Planning and BusinessWeek, among others.
With retirement income planning taking center stage as baby boomers retire, Kasper Steck is likely to gain even more traction. "Retirees today are faced with some tough decisions. Most corporations have gotten away from, and will continue to trend away from, traditional pensions. That's putting a whole lot of responsibility back on the individual -- and the advisor. This isn't something you can be kind of good at. You've got to be very, very good."
Kasper himself is part of Ed Slott's Elite Advisor Group and a member of its masters program, which involves years of continuous study in retirement-distribution planning. He also trains with Nelson, Dent and Trone.
"We're able to leverage off these workshops -- in terms of opportunity for our firm and deeper service to our clients," he adds. "As an independent, it's important for us to have other experts to help us decipher the information that's out there. Practitioners just can't do it on their own. You've got to resource this out. It's our obligation as professionals."
In order to deepen its platform, the firm last year launched 401kMASTER, a "back office" offered to Securities America's 1,800 advisors. Under the program, Kasper analyzes 401(k) plan investment options, costs and fiduciary considerations for other advisors and their clients. "We run our analytics and we've come in with some good results," says Kasper, who also looks for hidden fees. "Everything needs to be on top of the table, nothing under the table." The program is now listed on Securities America's wealth management program.
Earlier this year, Kasper introduced another program, Life Strategy Analytics, which helps investment advisors industry-wide develop portfolios created from mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.
In five years, Kasper Steck expects to double assets under management -- in no small measure because of its increasing heft as a retirement planning income expert. But, Kasper adds, he's not chasing a number. "People ask me what's your number? What's your forecast? I don't focus on it," he says. "Just focus on doing the right job and the rewards will come."
President, Kasper Steck Wealth Management
Home Base: Kansas City and St. Louis
AUM: $250 million
What nationally known CPA Ed Slott says about him: "Bud is reaching new heights by capitalizing on the investment he has made in his professional education and in his practice. Other advisors can do this, too, but the truth is that most don't."
Ellen Uzelac is a Chestertown, Md.-based freelance writer and contributing editor of Research.