Make sure your advisor has your interests ahead of their own. Fiduciary duty is a legal responsibility to put the interest of another party before your own. If your advisor has a fiduciary duty to you, he or she must act solely in your financial interest. A fiduciary cannot, for example, recommend a strategy that doesn’t benefit you but instead provides the advisor a commission or kick-back. This gives you peace of mind knowing they are putting your interests first. Financial advisors registered with the SEC or state securities regulator must act as a fiduciary. Broker-dealers, stockbrokers and insurance agents are only required to fulfill a suitability obligation and are not required to put their clients’ interest before their own. Homrich Berg was founded on the fiduciary standard and that has been a big draw for our clients to work with us.
Asa part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Lang of Homrich Berg. Stephanie joined Homrich Berg in 2005 and was named Chief Investment Officer in 2014. Stephanie oversees a team of professionals within the Investment Department of HB and is responsible for all investment matters including asset allocation, the selection and monitoring of traditional and alternative investments, as well as the research efforts for HB’s internal private fund-of funds. She also chairs the firm’s Investment Committee. Stephanie has more than 22 years’ experience in the investment industry. Prior to Homrich Berg, Stephanie was a portfolio manager for Bank of America’s private bank. While at Bank of America, she managed assets for individual and family trusts, charitable trusts, and foundation and retirement accounts. Prior to Bank of America, Stephanie was in equity research with Robinson Humphrey, where she covered technology and media companies. During her career Stephanie has often been a resource for the media covering the world of finance and investments, including being quoted in publications such as Financial Advisor, Citywire, and The Wall Street Journal. Stephanie has also served on numerous panels at industry conferences and has been a repeat guest on CNBC. Stephanie earned a master’s in business administration from Georgia State University and a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Georgia. Stephanie is a member of the CFA Institute, Atlanta Society of Finance and Investment Professionals, and the Southern Capital Forum, and serves on the board for Atlanta Women in Alternatives. Stephanie is also a member of the RIA Advisory Board for Pimco and the RIA Council for Vanguard. Stephanie is also active in the community serving on the Investment Committee for two local non-profit organizations, Mercy Care and Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. Stephanie lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Chris and two daughters.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
Looking back, my father got me interested in investing back in the early 90s when I was in high school. He encouraged me to invest in diversified mutual funds with my summer job earnings and I was really encouraged to see my money compound. Ever since then, I was intrigued by the stock market and my interest in investing eventually led me to major in finance and pursue a job in the investment world first in equity research and then wealth management.
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
Early on in my career, in my late 20s, I was managing trusts for individuals and small institutions. Each quarter I would travel to see clients and give them a portfolio review. In one specific meeting, I met with an older male client who was the trustee. As I reviewed the portfolio he interjected and began to speak about the market and his view on the portfolio. I was unable to interrupt him to express my opinion on the subject and when he was done he turned to me to ask if I had learned something. His question was not malicious but rather matter-of-fact. I did not let this experience affect how I approached my business going forward but instead took it as a lesson and used it as fuel to help me gain credibility as a young woman in this industry.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Homrich Berg strives to give our clients peace of mind when it comes to their financial life. We are always looking for more innovative ways to invest so our clients can reach their financial goals. It has been a goal of Homrich Berg to provide our clients access to private investments. These are investments that have less liquidity and therefore your money will be tied up for long periods of time. We expect an “illiquidity premium” for private investments, meaning investors should be compensated for locking up their money, by earning higher rates of return. I have been working alongside my team to identify private investment opportunities. These types of investments typically have very high minimums that traditionally have been out of reach for many individual investors. By pooling our clients’ money together we are able to collectively reach the minimums for private investments. In a world where individuals are responsible for their own retirements, as pension plans are getting more scarce or non-existent, it is important to come up with a financial plan to reach retirement. We believe private investments can better help individuals reach these goals given that we expect private investments will earn a rate of return in excess of traditional stocks and bonds. Bottom-line, we all want to retire one day and it is our job to find the best way for our clients to reach financial freedom.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Homrich Berg always puts their clients first. We try to take care of financial matters for our clients so they can live their best life. We have largely grown our business from referrals since our firm was founded 30 years ago. Part of Homrich Berg’s philosophy is that if we take care of our employees, they will take care of our clients. We recently celebrated our 30th anniversary as a firm and as a company, traveling to New York to celebrate and surprising our founder and CEO, Andy Berg, with a tribute video. Culture is very important to our firm and we like to think of our company as one big family. This comradery helps us serve our clients better.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
We live in a capitalistic country where revenue and profits drive behaviors. Women are controlling a growing amount of wealth in our country and knowing how to serve them is important. We are a growing demographic that can’t be ignored. Woman leaders are an important part of the equation if you want to attract female clients. According to Credit Suisse’s 2018 Global Wealth Report, women’s share in wealth rose considerably over the 20th century and today they hold around 40% of global wealth.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
- Leaders should recognize the value of diversity in thought. Group think does not deliver innovation. The more perspectives the better for providing new ways to tackle projects and looking at different ways of solving problems.
- In order to retain female employees, companies need to provide flexibility and support during their child-bearing years so they can be a mom and exceptional employee.
- Finally, if you want to attract and retain women employees, they need to see woman in leadership positions so they know they have a path to the top.
You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive essentials for smart investing what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each?
- Recognize the power of compounding. Starting young makes a big difference. How much you put away is important to growing your wealth but that number pales in comparison to the power of time. The sooner you start the greater advantage you’ll have. Let’s take a look at two examples: 1) Hannah saved 1,000 per month from the time she turned 25 until she turned 35. Then left her money to grow until retired at 65. 2) Addison didn’t start investing until 35 and saved $1,000 per month for 10 years until she turned 45. She also left her money to grow until she retired at 65. Both examples assume a 7% annualized return. They both saved $120,000 but Hannah ended up with $1.4 million, and Addison with $734K.
- Do your best to keep emotion out of investing. Many investors try to time the market and often end up hurting themselves in the end. Not only do you have to decide when the right time to get out of the market is, but you also have to be right about when to get back into the market. Many who try end up missing out on market rallies. Let’s take the recent downturn as an example. The S&P 500 was down 13.6% in the fourth quarter of 2018. If you cashed out during that downturn, you missed the big recovery in first quarter of 2019 when the market was up 14%. JP Morgan’s 2019 retirement guide shows the impact that pulling out of the market has on a portfolio. Looking back over the 20-year period from January 1, 1999 to December 31, 2018, if you missed the top 10 best days in the stock market, your overall return was cut in half. The difference was 5.62% vs. 2.01% annually.
- Find a trusted advisor that helps you form a financial plan and stick to it. An advisor can often be critical for not allowing near-term market actions result in the abandonment of a well-thought out financial plan. As I mentioned in number 2, an advisor can help you stay invested and not miss out on the best days in the stock market. In addition, Vanguard quantifies advisors’ alpha or potential worth to clients’ net return at about 3%. This includes added value through portfolio construction, rebalancing, spending strategy and behavioral coaching. In addition, offering advice on financial planning categories such as estate and succession planning, taxes, insurance and charitable giving add value as well even if they are not always quantifiable.
- Make sure your advisor has your interests ahead of their own. Fiduciary duty is a legal responsibility to put the interest of another party before your own. If your advisor has a fiduciary duty to you, he or she must act solely in your financial interest. A fiduciary cannot, for example, recommend a strategy that doesn’t benefit you but instead provides the advisor a commission or kick-back. This gives you peace of mind knowing they are putting your interests first. Financial advisors registered with the SEC or state securities regulator must act as a fiduciary. Broker-dealers, stockbrokers and insurance agents are only required to fulfill a suitability obligation and are not required to put their clients’ interest before their own. Homrich Berg was founded on the fiduciary standard and that has been a big draw for our clients to work with us.
- Look for innovative ways to generate returns for your portfolio. We are in the longest bull market in history and the longest ever economic expansion. With historically low interest rates and higher than average stock valuations, we expect lower than average returns when looking ahead 5–10 years. Therefore, we believe it is important to find innovative ways to invest your portfolio. We believe allocating a portion of your portfolio in more illiquid alternative investments can provide higher returns than traditional stocks and bonds. Private alternatives include investing or lending to private companies as well as investing in illiquid real estate (which includes office, residential, retail, storage, etc.), private natural resources or other illiquid opportunities that require your capital to be locked up for a period of time. Due to our outlook for traditional stocks and bonds, we believe private alternatives will be additive to portfolio risk and return when part of a portfolio.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I have to give credit to my husband, Chris, who understands that marriage is a partnership. While he has a challenging career himself, he and I split the household and childcare duties. I would not be where I am in my career without his help, love, and support. He is my sounding board and my biggest cheerleader.
I also have to mention Homrich Berg’s founder and CEO, Andy Berg. He has been a big supporter of mine as I have climbed through the ranks of our company. He also challenges me again and again to strive to reach new heights along the way for the betterment of myself and Homrich Berg.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Work hard, have fun, and never ever give up.Life is about getting up each day and doing your best you can do for your job, your family, friends and yourself. It is about showing up day after day and being that person that can be relied upon to get the job done. Eventually doing the right things pay off even though sometimes it is challenging. Continue to push yourself to try new things even if it feels uncomfortable because sometimes the toughest things in life are the most rewarding.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am involved in a non-profit called Mercy Care that provides medical care to those in need primarily serving the poor and homeless. Mercy Care’s team reaches out to those living in especially desperate conditions hitting the streets in their mobile medical unit and serving those who feel like no one cares or feel unworthy of care. On average, homeless people die 12 years sooner than the general population. The annual budget for the Street Medicine team in Atlanta is $910,000 which is raised through federal funding and private donations. What if we could double their budget and help more of Atlanta’s homeless by providing them basic healthcare? What if we could then replicate what we are doing in Atlanta and expand this organization to other cities? It is about helping one life at a time but this could have a true spiral effect that could really move the needle for helping the homeless population in the United States and potentially the world.