From the June 2010 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

June 1, 2010

Editor's Note: Learn From New Jersey

In thinking of the value that independent advisors like our cover story firm, Harbor Lights Financial, provide to their clients, I think of New Jersey. That's not only because Harbor Lights Financial, as explored with insightful detail by Managing Editor Bob Keane in the article that kicks off our annual special report on the independent broker/dealer universe, is cleverly expanding its offerings and focusing better on its client base sweet spot, all on the Jersey Shore. No, it's also because they are doing so, in the report texted to me by Scott Valenzano, Investment Advisor's nonpareil art director, during their oh-so-cooperative photo shoot on the sands and jetty of Point Pleasant Beach, that "these guys are great; they're just a couple of Jersey guys."

For some people who like to denigrate the Garden State calling somebody a "Jersey guy" might seem like an insult. But for those of us born and raised here, that sobriquet defines a person by their down-to-earth approach to life, by their skepticism leavened with optimism, by their belief that no matter how difficult times may be, there's hope for the future if you work hard enough, get educated, and take informed chances. New Jerseyans are used to the jokes, and reject both the pretensions of our New York neighbors to the north (if New York really is the greatest city in the world, why do its denizens have to keep reminding everybody about it?) and their snooty, most-obnoxious-sports-fans-in-the-world neighbors to the west in Philadelphia (send those cards and letters in, readers!).

I'd argue that Jersey guys (and gals)--oh, let's say, Thomas Edison or Woodrow Wilson or Queen Latifah or, closer to home and time, a person like Jennifer Connelly of JC Public Relations--create their own future with a mix of street-smart guile tempered by innocence and accompanied, always, by plain hard work. Maybe that's why immigrants do so well in the state. That is certainly what the principals at Harbor Lights are doing with the help of a broker/dealer, LPL, whose partnership ethos, they report, matches how Messrs. Roberts, Tendler, and Lockwood work with their clients.

There's another tenet about New Jersey that's appropriate in discussing how Harbor Lights is taking steps that suggest where the best advisors--and especially the indie B/D-affiliated advisors--are taking their practices. There are 605 separate school districts in New Jersey, each with its own board of education and separate budget, despite New Jersey's small size. So when the state is running a big budget deficit (like now), or when local municipalities are looking to cut costs, the mantra of shared services is raised: We could provide better, cheaper police or firefighting services if we just consolidated all these services! New Jerseyans usually reject such an approach, because it takes decision-making away from the smallest, most intimate body politic--your local town or ward or village. When you know everybody on the town council and the school board, you get accountability. That doesn't mean you don't need a good prosecutor to turn over some rocks regularly to catch the bad guys because people are also venal, and some don't want to put in the hard work needed to succeed. But when you're independent and responsible and accountable and have picked good partners, you've set yourself up for business success and your clients for financial success. But then, what do I know? I'm just a Jersey guy.

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