Andrew Altfest is a driven man. Driven to modernize his pioneering, honored family advisory practice, Altfest Personal Wealth Management, so that every client — not just the high net worth — is treated “like a Rockefeller.” That means leveraging technology to make a host of sophisticated services is available to all.
Promoted to president last March, Altfest, 39 — whom Forbes named a Best-in-State Wealth Advisor in New York in 2018 and 2019 — has brought fresh ideas and new initiatives to the trailblazing fee-only advisory that his parents, Lewis and Karen Altfest, founded in 1983.
Andrew first worked there part time, filing papers as a teen. Now he’s setting the course of the firm.
On Park Avenue in New York City, APWM has about $1.4 billion under management and a staff of 40, about half of whom are advisors.
Prior to his promotion, Andrew, who joined the practice 16 years ago, was a managing director and executive vice president.
His advancement was part of a longstanding succession plan, though his parents, both Ph.D.s, have no plans to retire. Lew Altfest remains CEO and chief investment officer; Karen Altfest is executive vice president and a principal advisor, specializing in helping female clients.
The innovative Andrew has spearheaded a number of initiatives, including the firm’s Young Professionals Group, targeting millennials. And he led the introduction of digital technology-enabled financial planning.
In fact, now the firm is gearing up to roll out artificial intelligence software it’s developed for comprehensive wealth management. In beta at APWM and selective advisor offices, it is expected to be available to all advisors early next year.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Andrew, on the phone from his midtown office. In the chat, he shared an important piece of business advice his father gave him early on that’s indeed as relevant and valuable now.
Here are excerpts from our interview:
What’s your vision for the firm?
To treat every client like a Rockefeller! We intend to offer comprehensive wealth management to all our clients, not just the largest ones. That’s where technology comes in.
My vision is to automate comprehensive wealth management and serve up our recommendations on a platter to all clients. We’ve invested heavily in incorporating artificial intelligence and other advanced technology into our practice so that we can [provide] a ton [of services] to all.
The bulk of your clientele is high net worth. But you’re also serving others who aren’t on that level. Please discuss.
Building long-term relationships is extremely important for the lifeblood of the firm. Our minimum is $1 million, but we waive that for young professionals. Some of the people we work with have nothing saved and have a lot of debt — but we think they can grow with the firm. So we’re helping them now. We don’t stick them in a robo.
What’s your clientele demographic age-wise?
Since we started working with the next generation, we’ve brought down the average age of our clients. The client base had been growing older; now it’s growing younger, on average. That’s a very good sign for the future of our firm. We have a lot of people coming to us who are in their 30s. Instead of retirement planning, we help them with family planning or starting their own company.
How do you prospect?
The way we engage today is much different from how we did it 20 years ago. Referrals and word of mouth are still important. But today, we reach and engage people in the very modern 21st century way of digital marketing and digital communication. We have a huge investment as content generators and in digital marketing. We reach [prospects] through email and social media. The content is based on their needs; it’s not general commentary.
What’s critical advice your father gave you about investing and the business?
My father has been my mentor. One important thing he taught me is: Think for yourself. That’s how you make money in the market. That’s how you can sit in a client meeting and listen to what they say but think about what they’re really saying.
Are there any major business issues about which you and your parents disagree?
We don’t have conflict, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have different opinions. For example, about the [notion] to offer a tremendous amount of services to every client, they might [have said], “Is that really possible?” Sometimes you have to kill the sacred cow and show what’s possible when those things weren’t possible before. Even if [my parents] aren’t as up to date on cutting-edge technology [as I am], they “get” it, understand it and can advise on it.
What’s been your personal evolution at the firm?
As a kid, my vacations were at financial advisor conferences across the country. I remember playing with other children in hotel rooms. As a teenager, I filed papers at the firm. My first adult job out of school was half-investment analyst and half-supporting clients under my father.
In college, your intention was to become a novelist. But then you had a change of mind and joined the firm. How did you take to financial services as a full-time profession?
When I first entered the business, it was like being a kid in a candy store — non-stop fascinating, stimulating work. Now I have a daily diet of Altfest Monday through Sunday — and I love it.
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