It was a broker partnership made in heaven for Louis Bell and Marc Levitt, but the idea hadn’t originated with their firm. Rather, the two clicked so well when they met as trainees studying for licensing exams, that once registered, they swiftly joined forces. Now, 25 years later, the Bell and Levitt Wealth Management Group of nine manages client assets of $1.2 billion.
The practice, at UBS Financial Services for the last five years, serves wealthy and ultra-high net worth families in every aspect of their financial lives — even mentoring teenage and 20-something client kids on money-related issues. Some accounts are as large as $50 million.
On Park Avenue in New York City, the group, whose client base is concentrated in the New York Metro area and Florida, has 125 core client relationships. Bell and Levitt are indeed picky when it comes to new clients, and they tell why in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.
Theirs is a two-generation practice delivering high-touch help to affluent families. In 1998, Bell, now 56, and Levittt, 47, together with Bell’s father, Stephen Bell, 79, a 56-year industry veteran, combined their two practices.
The team of nine — including financial advisor Jamie Wolff and five registered relationship managers — employs an efficient planning process that divides client goals according to needs of liquidity, longevity and legacy. Assets are thus laddered to help reach goals over the client’s lifetime. The bucket system brings clients peace of mind in volatile markets — like now.
Louis Bell and Levitt work chiefly on the equity side. Stephen Bell handles fixed income investing, his longtime specialty. Bell and Levitt were fee-based from the get-go — at a time when the now-ubiquitous compensation plan was just emerging.
The two younger advisors began at Prudential Securities in 1993 and remained there, as did Stephen Bell, through the Pru-Wachovia merger a decade later. But they found the new firm a poor fit and moved to Bear Stearns. They stayed for five years following JPMorgan’s 2008 takeover, then joined UBS Financial Services in 2013.
All three Bell and Levitt partners are New Yorkers, born and bred. Louis Bell practiced law for six years before transitioning to financial advisory. Levitt came to the industry fresh from college.
Key to their success? The FAs say it’s more than just walking the talk: It’s deeply, genuinely caring about clients.
THINKADVISOR: Why did you two team up?
MARC LEVITT: From the very day that Prudential put us in a room and told us to study for exams for three months, we became very close friends. When they threw us off the end of the pier and told us to build a business, we decided to do it together. From Day One, we wanted to be the primary, most important advisor in our clients’ lives — their chief family financial officer.
What’s been the secret to your success?
LOUIS BELL: Conveying empathy and concern for clients’ well-being and success. You can’t just walk the walk. You have to actually feel it.
LEVITT: You can’t fake caring. You either care or you don’t.
Why do you two get along so well? What are areas of disagreement?
BELL: The chemistry between us has always been there. It’s like a marriage because we’ve spent so much time together over the years. We started our practice as partners; so we’ve never had a disagreement over approach. We don’t fight. We built our approach together.
You consider only half the referrals you receive as appropriate clients. Why is that?
LEVITT: We don’t take on clients that don’t need or don’t want what we do. If we’re not going to be ultra-effective for them, getting involved would be frustrating for them and impossible for us.
BELL: We’re not transactional advisors, so we won’t take on people who are looking for that kind of advice.
What about extended family members of existing clients? Do you serve them?
BELL: We’ll never not take on a family member of a client, such as a niece or nephew. No matter the [account] size, we’ll find a solution for them.