Top financial advisor Margaret Chow Starner knows full well the implications of “Gates’ Law.” As Microsoft’s Bill Gates argues: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years.”
Starner, an energetic veteran FA, 81, leads the Miami-based Starner Group of Raymond James, managing more than $1 billion in assets of high-net-worth clients. Indeed, she coaches them not to be examples of “Gates’ Law” but to be disciplined, long-term equity investors who stick to their financial plans, as she tells ThinkAdvisor in an Interview.
Approaching her 40th anniversary both as an advisor and a Raymond James employee, the Miami-based Starner likens her clients’ success at managing market downturns to surviving Florida’s cyclonic hurricanes. With experience, they know what to do.
So when the market suddenly collapsed big-time in March, her longtime clients kept their heads because, she maintains in the interview, they “knew the drill.”
The advisor’s “by-invitation-only” high-service practice composes three FAs and three other registered staff. Minimum account size is $1 million in investable assets, and the typical household is worth $3 million to $7 million.
In 1981, Starner correctly sized up the notion of financial planning, a new field at the time, as a way to help people. Hence, even before acquiring her Series 7 license, she made a beeline to study for the certified financial planner designation, which was just gaining attention, as she describes.
That same year, she joined Raymond James. With founder Robert James as her mentor, Starner forged ahead to become an outstanding planner.
In the white-male dominated industry, being a Chinese American woman apparently never hindered her progress.
Still, she recalls, at first prospects “might have been skeptical. So if you’re different, you have to find a way to overcome it.”
The groundbreaking FA has consistently made Barron’s lists of America’s Top 1,200 Advisors (2009-2019) and Top 100 Women Advisors (2007-2019). This year she is No. 18 on Forbes’s compilation of 1,000 Top Women Wealth Advisors (2009-2020).
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Starner, speaking from Coral Gables, Florida. An early advocate for women’s entry into financial advising who helped found the Raymond James Women’s Advisory Board, she is also founder of the Women’s Leadership Alliance, formed to bring more women into the profession.
Here are highlights of our conversation:
THINKADVISOR: When you started out in 1981, what was so different about financial planning compared to the typical approach brokers were taking with clients?
MARGARET CHOW STARNER: Most were buying and selling securities, whereas we were selling advice and solutions. So we weren’t that popular, and no one took us too seriously back then. But we were enthusiastic — we wanted to save the world by working with people’s finances.
What’s your investing philosophy today?
I still believe that the easiest way to create wealth is by investing in equities. We spend a lot of time researching mutual fund money managers. We don’t change [the investments] much once we set [them] in place. Everyone gets a financial plan, and we stick to it.
Even during the March market collapse?
Yes. To me, the single most important thing is that you have money when you need it — you don’t want to be needing cash after the market goes down 40% in one day!
So how do you accomplish that?
We’re focused on what clients need in the near term, and then we have a lot of flexibility for a better return in the long run. As Bill Gates said: “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and understate what they can do in 10 years.”
With your clients largely invested in equities, how nervous were they when the market plummeted nearly 35% in March?
Even I got nervous! You get nervous — you just don’t panic. There’s a difference. Clients who have been with us a long time have been through [downturns] and know the drill because they’ve managed them and survived them. It’s like living through hurricanes. Eventually, you learn how to survive them.
You earned a degree in economics from Stanford University. Later, you worked nights at H&R Block doing tax returns to earn some extra money. How did that part-time work figure into your decision, at age 41, to become a financial advisor?
I had this phenomenal tax-theory professor at Stanford who talked about the mission of taxation. He made taxes exciting, and it fascinated me. I fell in love with tax strategy.
How did that lead to your becoming a financial planner?
At Block, I saw all the mistakes that people were making with their money because of the way they did their returns. You had to [work on] the returns in front of the customers; so I would ask them questions. That gave me insight into what people didn’t know.
What most motivated you to become an advisor?
Around the time I was working at Block, I read an article in Forbes about financial planning. It struck a chord with me because it was a way of helping people.
Anything else that sparked your interest in advisory?