Back in 1976, while other teenagers had started obsessing over the newest style of music, punk rock, 16-year-old Louis M. Ricciardi was grooming himself to be a financial advisor. Hipping classmates to the Rule of 72, he was touting the benefits of investing at a young age.
Buddies blew off that idea, but the precocious youth took his own advice. Indeed, the following year he began buying Exxon and Coca-Cola three or four shares at a time — and has continued to buy them till this day, though in far larger blocks.
An FA for 30 years now, he heads the Ricciardi Financial Group, in historic Taunton, Mass., 40 miles south of Boston. Affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services, the three-person practice manages $220 million in assets.
A longtime wirehouse veteran, Ricciardi carved out an unlikely niche at age 24 operating like an independent in a Dean Witter one-person satellite branch in the small town of Taunton, founded by Plymouth Colony members in 1637.
“There are a lot more high-net-worth people here than are concentrated in the cities — and they’re a lot more quiet about what they have,” notes the peppy Massachusetts native, 51, who winds down by baking blue-ribbon-winning pies given to clients on birthdays, Thanksgiving and at customer appreciation events.
“I enjoy baking because you can’t speed it up, compared to Wall Street, which is at hyperspeed. It’s a nice juxtaposition to that environment,” he says.
Ricciardi started out in a large Shearson-American Express office in the city of Brockton, Mass. But moving to Dean Witter three-and-a-half years later, he was set on locating as a one-man outpost in industrial Taunton.
“I grew up in the area and felt I had much more of a presence in a smaller community,” he says. “I saw opportunity. Why not bring professional investment services there and not just assume everyone wants to go into the big city?”
Today, two-thirds of Ricciardi’s clients are retirees or pre-retirees. He focuses on fixed-income management — especially tax-free municipal bonds — and enjoys a robust 401(k) plan business.
George LeRoy, 92, an affluent 25-year client and former president-chair of the Taunton-based Bristol County Savings Bank, calls Ricciardi “the smartest, most capable, honest fellow you could possibly have. He never tries to sell anything to get the highest commission. I have ideas on what I want to buy. He keeps searching and when he gets it, presents it to me. I’ve known a lot of movers and shakers, but Lou is tops.”
His key philosophy: Investing needn’t be as complicated as he believes Wall Street tries to make it. “There are so many bells and whistles, fancy-shmancy plans and being wrapped up in the Internet and gee-whiz things. But I’ve found that the real money isn’t looking for the dazzle — they’re looking to understand, for consistency and for folks who will answer questions.”
He went independent during the financial crisis, leaving UBS in September 2009 after moving to PaineWebber in 2002, two years after its acquisition by UBS.
“I got tired of answering questions from my customers about why UBS was putting its capital at risk and if those losses were affecting [their accounts]. I felt less comfortable with the direction in which [wirehouses] were going.”
The transition was as smooth as silk. In the first 10 days on his own, he moved $100 million in client assets. Within two months, 97 percent had been transferred over.
As an independent, Ricciardi couldn’t be happier. “It’s a much more comfortable format and a significantly more robust set-up from every angle,” he says. “I would argue that most financial advisors doing three-quarters of a million or above, if they do the math and don’t mind the responsibility of payroll,” would opt for it too.
Born in Worcester, Mass., the eldest of four boys, Ricciardi grew up in the Cape Cod village of Cotuit. His father Michael was a state auditor who often toiled at a second job to support the family. At 13, Ricciardi already had working papers for a teaching gig in a ceramics studio. It was the start of a host of odd jobs that would pay his way through college.
He was determined to pursue a profession that provided financial stability and independence. “The biggest hurdle I’ve overcome was not letting the environment I grew up in restrict my dream of what I wanted to achieve,” he says.
Graduating from Bridgewater State University with a degree in English, he was recruited by Shearson-American Express and, at 21, kicked off his career.
Four years later, upon the death of his father, he established a scholarship at Bridgewater in Michael J. Ricciardi’s name. This year the advisor, who chairs the university’s board of trustees, was honored when Bridgewater named one of its five colleges after him: the Louis M. Ricciardi College of Business.
Ricciardi is a serious coin collector, plays guitar for private events and finds time to bake pecan and raspberry-pear pies.
“Pecan pies don’t have to be lead in your belly. I created a much lighter, less sweet approach,” he notes, “and it became a hit!”
His tack with investing is just as assured. “We try to keep clients focused on what they need to do as opposed to what they want to do. Our strategy,” he says, “is that you can get to your goals at a measured pace, and in one piece.”