When a successful, veteran advisor like Lou Stanasolovich of Legend Financial Advisors in Pittsburgh answers an interviewer’s question on what was responsible for his achievements in the field by quoting Tom Peters that “there are a lot of us who have failed on our way to success,” you realize that this is one advisor whose self-deprecation is matched only by his commitment to the profession and his firm. “I’ve transformed myself from advisor to business owner,” this member of the IA Leaders’ Council points out, “but I’m still struggling.” Note the use of the present tense; this is one advisor who has built a healthy, much-admired advisory firm but who continues to strive to improve. Proudly fee only, Legend will provide money management only to clients if they wish, but the firm’s meat and potatoes are in what Stanasolovich calls “high-level financial planning,” which includes, as a FAQ on www.legend-financial.com lists, “Reviews of employment contracts, real estate leases, wills, trust agreements, stock option agreements, property and casualty insurance, non-qualified deferred compensation agreements, private investments, hedge funds, corporate minutes, buy-sell agreements, retirement plan documents, business income tax returns, U.S. savings bonds, and even the evaluation of retirement village contracts.”
He’s careful to mention that longtime co-worker Diane Person has been on the Worth list of the top advisors in the country, but modestly doesn’t mention his own multiyear presence on that prestigious list, nor others like the IA 25. Moreover, in areas as diverse as employee recruitment, ongoing staff development, and the smart use of technology, voracious reader Stanasolovich is leading the profession into a future where he worries that the small shop suffering from compliance burdens and challenged by technology may not be able to compete. Stanasolovich spoke to Editor Jamie Green by telephone in mid-December.
On how you got started in the business.
When I got out of college [with a degree in accounting from Penn State], I became a cost analyst for U.S. Steel. A friend was taking a securities course, preparing to take the Series 7 test, and I decided to do the same for my own personal interests; I wanted to learn more about investing. I read about the IAFP in Money magazine, about 1980 or so, and learned it was starting a local chapter, I went to the first chapter meeting, and three years later I was the chapter president. I started our firm, Legend Financial Advisors, in 1994 with about $10 million in assets and 30 clients; we now have 200 clients and about $300 million in AUM. Diane Pearson’s been with me for 17 years now and has been on the Worth list [of the top advisors in the country]. In 1983 I took the CFP course and got the CFP designation in 1984, so I’m pretty old in the business.
On what you provide to your clients.
In some ways we’re a throwback shop–we’ve always done high-level financial planning work, stuff that most of the financial planning industry and certainly the CFP course doesn’t even talk about yet, like obtaining financing for a business to buy land or a building, or working with clients’ attorneys and P&C agents, HR guidance, things like that. An 80-year-old might start to look for a retirement village to live in. We may physically pick up that client and drive him around to various locations and see what he thinks. A normal part of our work is establishing retirement plans for medical practices or businesses, though for a lot of advisors that’s kind of new. These days, the two biggest issues are helping clients search for health insurance–we’re doing this on a fee-only business, so we’re not making commissions, but working with brokers to make it happen–and the other is identity theft protection. Equifax has a nice service called Three-in-One, where it sends monthly updates every time someone checks a client’s credit history, even if there’s no action they send you an update. It’s, like, $129. We do stuff like that.
On how you find and motivate people.
We hire interns who do tasks we can delegate down, like running basic research reports or performance reports. We have interns in finance, business administration, marketing and communications, and information technology. Our program is year-round, and they do 18 to 20 hours a week during the school year.
This year, we’ll make job offers to three finance majors and two in the marketing/communications area. They know how the firm operates, and also all our idiosyncrasies. I’ll be frank, our place is not for the average employee. We work really hard and we’re very particular about everything. We banned the use of cellphones in the workplace; we have a strict dress code. We hire only what we consider A-type players, to quote Brad Smart of Topgrading [the hiring process approach].
We have good candidates coming out [of the intern program] every year because we’re getting better spending time with them, and the younger they are, the stronger candidate they are, since they’ve been here two or three years.