Upbeat and enthusiastic about her work, Donna Levy says she is a “self-actualized” and “very fortunate woman” who is sure that what she is doing is “what I’m supposed to do on the planet.” Yet her motivation and passion stem from tragedy; she has turned that around to become the very thing her family most needed when she was a child.
Levy is CIO and a managing director of Sontag Advisory in New York, founded by Howard Sontag in 1995. The RIA has over $5 billion in AUM. She landed at Sontag in 2000 and has 28 years of experience in the field.
Levy is a member of AdvisorOne’s 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.
Levy lost her father when she was 8. She recalls only a “modest” amount of money, which her mother didn’t know how to handle, instead relying on her son-in-law, whose advice largely consisted of urging the purchase of 30-year Treasuries.
In that atmosphere of constant “vulnerability and unease” that permeated the household during its dependence on her grandparents’ generosity—“they were not warm and fuzzy folks to us”—she realized how essential it was to learn about money.
“I was going to understand money, and what it meant, and how to make it grow,” she says, so that she could “rely on myself for my financial well-being. It had a huge impact.” Although she didn’t realize it at the time, she says, it steered her into the work she does today.
“I almost didn’t know till I got here [to my present work] that what I’m doing is perfect,” she says. “I sit across the table from clients, counseling people on their well-being.” To her, that means making sure that she understands her clients’ goals, determines whether their goals are realistic and does the necessary planning to get them to where they want to be.
And she loves her work—“building a relationship with my clients, approaching them with integrity, listening to them, being with them.” In short, she has become “exactly what my family and my mother specifically, importantly, needed.”
Something else she has done is to open her practice to couples; she has found that in general, husbands come in alone instead of bringing their wives. So that no woman should be left ignorant of family finances, Levy encourages couples to come to the office together.
Another difference in her practice is comprehensive reporting. If a client has $10 million in assets, says Levy, but her firm only manages $3 million, the client will still get a report on all $10 million. That way, she says, she is able to advise them on whether their portfolio holdings are appropriate.
“Because of the comprehensive nature of our reporting and thought process, we truly advise clients,” she says. “Our interests completely align with client interests … I’ve become what my mother needed so many years ago, without really realizing that was my task. But as I was getting there, it really struck me that I’m in this place so important to me and to women. I find it incredibly satisfying.”
See the lead news article on the 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.
See the article on the process for choosing the 2011 50 Top Women in Wealth.
See the 2010 50 Top Women in Wealth.