Many financial advisors search hard for a client niche to target. For Charles Massimo, the niche found him.
Father of two sons who are autistic, and a daughter who is not, the FA’s personal experience rearing his now 19-year-old triplets indeed informed CJM Wealth Management, his independent advisory practice.
A member of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Autism Spectrum Advisory Board, Massimo, 56, focuses on helping parents of autistic children plan for the future. He takes the long view, looking ahead to their care after both parents are deceased.
His other specialty is helping affluent physicians manage their wealth. That grew from a friendship with one surgeon to his becoming part of the doctor’s trusted circle of colleagues.
Before founding his own shop in 2003, Massimo spent 20 years working at Shearson Lehman as a compliance officer, New York Life Insurance Co. as an agent and Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney as a financial advisor.
He experienced wirehouse life as deeply frustrating: The FA wanted to invest based on his clients’ best interests; the two firms only wanted to sell products, he says.
The resulting internal conflict finally caused him to break away from Smith Barney and launch his own firm. Later, he wrote an expose-like bestseller: “Getting Off the Street: Sane Investment Advice from One of the Nation’s Leading Wealth Managers” (Offstreet Press 2014).
With about $480 million in assets under management, Massimo, who initially built his practice conducting two seminars monthly, is located in the hamlet of Deer Park, on New York’s Long Island. According to the advisor, the Island has the country’s largest cluster of children with the neuro-developmental condition of autism.
Massimo’s not-for-profit, Autism Communities, addresses the pressing problem of housing for adults with autism.
The advisor’s sons now live and work at a residential school; their sister is a college sophomore, likely to become a special education teacher.
ThinkAdvisor recently held a phone interview with the enterprising advisor, who is supported by the Dynasty Financial Partners platform.
THINKADVISOR: Tell me about your niche of families impacted by autism.
CHARLES MASSIMO: I have two boys with autism, and all the challenges of planning for their care and future, their sister’s future and my own future are a lot of balls to juggle. I wanted to bring my expertise both professionally and personally to [similar] families so they don’t have issues later in life. I’m trying to find ways to improve these children’s lives.
How do you prospect for such a specialized clientele?
I’m an advocate for children with autism. I have my own not-for-profit. I network at events and meet many families much the same as mine [etc.].
At events, do families ask for your financial advice?
Yes. At first, I’d just give it away and never looked to build a business around it. Then I realized I could add a lot of value.
Did you start developing this niche while you were at Merrill Lynch or Smith Barney?
No, because you can’t hold a niche at those [large firms]. You’re forced, in a way, to bring in as many [clients] as you can since that’s the only way you’re going to get paid.
I understand that Long Island, New York, where you practice, is a hub for families with autism. Why is that?
Long Island has the largest population of children with autism. The services, schools and support agencies are probably some of the best in the country. So a lot of people move here for those. Also, because it’s in [one of] the most affluent parts of the country, we tend to get our children diagnosed sooner.
Your other focus is physicians. How did you begin advising them?
Many years ago I became very good friends with a surgeon, met lots of his friends, got accepted into their trusted circle; and they started coming to me to look at their investing. Physicians are probably the greatest referral source.
What do you advise families with autism about that’s different from helping other clients?
Parents have to think about what’s going to happen when they’re no longer here because their children can’t care for or advocate for themselves. It’s not easy for families to focus on that, but we have to. I make sure all my clients fill out a Letter of Intention that spells out how they want their child to be cared for, including what their likes and dislikes are, what their strengths and weaknesses are.
What other financial concerns do these parents have?
There aren’t a lot of dual-income families because one spouse has to stay home with the child. So that creates a whole other planning challenge. Also, the divorce rate in families with autism is much higher than the norm — another challenge.
Why did you want to become a financial advisor?