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Taking the Long View

By Mark Morris

Matt Landon and Jeff Liguori saw an opportunity for Napatree Capital to better serve Western Mass. out of its new location in Longmeadow.

In a co-working office space at the historic Brewer-Young mansion, Jeff Liguori and Matt Landon help people build their financial futures.

Liguori, founder and chief investment officer of Napatree Capital in Providence, R.I., relocated to Western Mass. in 2015 and began to sense increasing demand for his firm’s services in this area. In January, he hired longtime acquaintance and Western Mass. native Landon as a partner in the firm. Together, they discussed opening a local office, and on Feb. 1, Napatree Capital opened its five-person firm in the restored mansion in Longmeadow’s center.

While Napatree could have served clients here from Providence, Liguori and Landon both thought it was important to have a physical presence in Western Mass.

“It was serendipity that there was one opening left in the Brewer-Young mansion,” Landon said. “We felt this iconic and different building fit with our image, so we jumped on the opportunity to locate there.”

Liguori, who grew up in Westerly, R.I., named his firm after Napatree Point in Watch Hill.

“Our investment committee is skilled at finding temporarily undervalued, underloved, and underappreciated companies that are selling at a discount. But we feel they’ll get the recognition they deserve in the near- or medium-term horizon.”

“It’s a beautiful stretch of beach where I’ve spent many summers,” he said. “As the southwesternmost point of Rhode Island, it separates Block Island Sound from Long Island Sound, so it really splits Rhode Island from New York.”

Because he liked the symbolism of its location and the relative obscurity of the name, he sought copyrights for several variations of the Napatree name in anticipation of one day starting his own firm. “Very few people have heard of it; even many Rhode Islanders don’t know Napatree Point.”

Liguori explained that his firm specializes in two areas: working with private investors looking to reach long-term financial goals, and managing endowments for nonprofits, which he called a growing area of business.

The firm’s business philosophy starts with ‘value investments,’ which Liguori says has to do with how a stock measures up against its industry or sector. The firm has had success taking a contrarian approach by investing in companies that are currently under the radar and might be underpriced by the market.

“Our investment committee is skilled at finding temporarily undervalued, underloved, and underappreciated companies that are selling at a discount,” Landon explained. “But we feel they’ll get the recognition they deserve in the near- or medium-term horizon.”

Landon also made it clear that Napatree takes the long view toward investing. “We’re not traders; we are long-term owners of companies.”

All advisors at Napatree are fiduciaries, meaning they can only recommend investments that are in the client’s best interest. By contrast, financial advisors who are not fiduciaries are held to a much more lenient ‘suitability’ standard. For example, two index funds based on stocks listed in the Standard and Poor’s 500 may seem similar on the surface. If one fund charges high fees and the other low fees, they are technically both suitable investments. A fiduciary, however, is required to recommend the fund with the lower fee because it is better for the client. Landon pointed out that he enjoys sticking with a fiduciary approach.

“It makes doing business very simple when you operate from a fiduciary standard,” he explained. “If you do what’s in the client’s best interest all the time, it’s an easy path to follow, and everyone wins.”

 

Upward Projections

Liguori pointed out that growth in his business comes in two ways: investment performance and taking on new clients. When the world came to a halt last March, however, meeting with potential new clients became extremely difficult. As advisors and investors, Liguori and his colleagues listened to the concerns of panicked clients, while at the same time they continued to research and act on investment strategies.

“We are also business owners worried about our business,” Liguori said. “We saw assets evaporate, so that meant our fees went down 30%.” Digging in and working harder was a key to getting through the trying times, he added. “As the founder of the firm, and on a personal level, I couldn’t be more grateful for where we are now after what we went through last March.”

Landon added that the pandemic strengthened client relationships as communication became more important and frequent, especially for clients whose industries were hit hard by coronavirus. While there are clear challenges and roadblocks ahead, the market horizon looks further out and toward more recovery.

“We try to reinforce to our clients that better earnings and brighter days are ahead, along with being empathetic to where they are right now,” Landon said.

After a slowdown at the beginning of COVID, Napatree saw a big uptick in the fourth quarter of last year. Liguori said that set the table for projected 20% growth in 2021.

“The last 12 months have been similar to a full market cycle, something that usually takes place over a five-year time period,” he said. “Clients who were full-on panicked in the beginning and were able to stay invested are now reaping the rewards of their patience.”

He admitted that even clients who have stayed invested are still anxious about the future. Most concerns are ones that existed long before COVID-19. In addition to parents who worry about saving enough for their children’s college education, the number-one concern Landon hears involves retirement.

“About 80% to 90% of the people we talk to have not been trained in investing; they would rather be gardening or hiking. So, if we can help put them at ease and feel good about the path they are on, it’s enormously rewarding.”

“People often ask if they will have enough to retire comfortably and live with dignity,” he said, noting that, because people are living longer, financial planning for retirement now involves making sure people have money for up to three decades after they retire.

Recent findings prove the point. Data from the CDC shows the average life expectancy for everyone born in the U.S. to be 78.9 years, but when calculating life expectancy after reaching age 65, it’s a different story. According to 2018 findings from the Society of Actuaries, there’s a 50% chance that a 65-year-old male lives to age 87, and that a 65-year-old female lives to age 89. For couples at age 65, there is a 50% chance at least one of them will live to age 93, and a 25% chance one will live to 98.

Disruptive events, like pandemics, can create the kind of fear and anxiety in people that lead to bad decision making in their efforts to reach long-term savings goals such as college and retirement.

Liguori said behavioral investing, whether it’s driven by fear or greed, usually leads to dangerous outcomes. His firm looks to avoid the herd mentality that can happen during volatile markets and instead focus on the client’s long-term objectives. He noted the GameStop stock bubble as an example that may look good in the near term, but the usual outcome for a small investor in events like this is disaster. Napatree’s philosophy, Landon added, is the exact opposite of chasing bubbles.

“We want to buy compelling long-term businesses that are selling at a discount right now because we’ve researched the likelihood they will be going up, not down,” he explained, adding that, when Napatree recommends a company to a client, the firm also own it.

“When we believe in an investment, it’s where we are putting our own money as well,” he said. “We think it’s important to show that we invest in the same companies as our clients.”

Another part of Napatree’s business involves helping small and medium-sized companies manage their employee 401(k) programs. Landon said the firm works with a couple dozen businesses to make sure programs are designed well and priced fairly, and that employees feel confident about participating in the plan.

“About 80% to 90% of the people we talk to have not been trained in investing; they would rather be gardening or hiking,” he added. “So, if we can help put them at ease and feel good about the path they are on, it’s enormously rewarding.”

 

Bottom Line

Landon said he and his colleagues love to meet with people to dissect their financial situations, and if it leads to someone being a client, that’s even better.

“We’re excited to be here in Western Mass. to expand the Napatree footprint,” he told BusinessWest. “We look forward to helping a lot of people and doing good things in the community.”

Retirement Planning

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

President and Chief Investment Officer Trevor Forbes

President and Chief Investment Officer Trevor Forbes

With decades of investment experience under his belt — much of it for very large companies on an international scale — Trevor Forbes decided he preferred an approach to portfolio management that emphasizes the individual. He found that model at Renaissance Investment Group, which he joined as president in 2011. Creating a completely personalized portfolio for each client takes work, he said, but it’s worth it because it creates peace of mind — in more ways than one.

It makes sense, Trevor Forbes said, that no two people would forge an identical strategy for their financial future.

“Your financial position is going to be different than someone else’s, and your ideas about what you want when you retire will undoubtedly be different. So how you deal with that retirement will be different,” said Forbes, president and chief investment officer at Lenox-based Renaissance Investment Group.

“You may be a cautious investor; you may be able to tolerate much less in the way of volatility in your investments than someone else, and we take that into account,” he went on. “We have to balance a whole range of different requirements from our clients. A lot of organizations will claim to do that, to an extent, but in most cases, they are not really set up to do it that way — certainly not for the size of clients we typically manage money for.”

Renaissance was launched in 2000 with a vision to provide tailored investment-management and financial-planning advice to individuals who were being sidelined by the centralization of the industry.

“That’s remained very much the ethos of Renaissance ever since,” Forbes said. “I joined in 2011, having had long discussions with the original founders for about 18 months prior to that, at a time when two of the original founders were seeking to retire. They wanted somebody with a similar ethos and a similar approach to investments.”

“The mission has been to provide individualized investment management and financial planning for people who otherwise wouldn’t be getting that.”

Forbes, a native of England, had worked in London for most of his career, mainly for large financial organizations on the investment side. “For example, for most of the ’90s I was the head of global equities for Citibank, which was those days based in London. I had to coordinate the investment approach of seven different locations around the world. They got me very heavily involved in asset allocation for a whole range of different types of clients. Particularly interesting to me, at that stage, was the private client side.”

Forbes left Citibank at the end of the 1990s and went into private-client wealth management; in 2007, he set up a wealth-management business “at probably one of the most inauspicious times in market history.” But over the next several years, he and his team built that enterprise from nothing to a billion dollars under management.

Still, he and his wife were looking for something different when they relocated to the Berkshires — she to open a bed and breakfast, and he to find a wealth-management firm that fit his philosophy — which he found in Renaissance just as it was looking for a successor to run the business.

Just before he came on board, the company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Bank, but it never fit neatly into that’s institution’s mold, he said, so in 2016, he partnered with Ohio-based Stratos Wealth Enterprises, LLC to buy out the firm.

“We’ve been able to regain our independence and maintain what has been the ethos of the company all the way through,” he explained. “The mission has been to provide individualized investment management and financial planning for people who otherwise wouldn’t be getting that. That continues today.”

In most investment-advisory firms of Renaissance’s size, said Chief Operating Officer Christopher Silipigno, “you’re not getting someone to sit down and find out exactly what your situation is, what variables are in play for you, and then looking at the specific equities that best make up a portfolio that matches that. That’s pretty special.”

One thing that attracted him to the firm, he added, is its history of bringing in senior-level talent from very large institutions who now bring that experience to clients outside the ultra-high-net-worth sphere.

“You’re getting someone with Trevor’s background to sit down with you and run through all kinds of things — your investment concerns, retirement concerns, cash flow and how much you need, as well as things like passing this wealth on in a tax-efficient manner, how the funds will go to your children, even real-estate concerns.”

As an SEC-registered investment advisory firm, Silipigno noted, Renaissance has a fiduciary responsibility to clients — a term meaning, essentially, that their interests always come first.

“Most people don’t understand that, in your large broker-dealer houses, that’s not the case. They have a suitability expectation, which means the investment has to be suitable, but it could be that they’re selling you Apple because they own Apple at one price and want to sell it at another. We’re not selling our own stock, so our advice is what’s in your best interest. We’re also not pushing products, which is unique.”

Conscientious Investors

At Renaissance, the investment team is doing all its own research on individual investments, Silipigno said. “You might think that’s the norm, but it’s further and further away from the norm. Typically, research is done somewhere else and being sent into the firm, and then that research is being used to make decisions for you.”

That in-house research, he explained, extends to both national trend tracking, but also the fundamentals of each company being considered for investment. For instance, he noted, in a growing economy, oil might be a promising investment. “But maybe we see a lot of growth coming out of West Texas, and here are the companies in West Texas best poised to grow because they have the capacity to grow.

Chris Silipigno

Chris Silipigno says Renaissance has a fiduciary responsibility to clients, meaning their interests come first, not the firm’s.

“That’s the kind of specific research that’s happening here and can be brought to a client,” he said. “Maybe someone in a $15 million account somewhere can demand that kind of answer. Here, we’re bringing that to clients in much smaller accounts.”

Sometimes, an individual investment strategy will incorporate what’s become known in the industry as social-responsibility investments (SRI), or environmental, social, and governance (ESG) preferences. Take, for example, customers who may not want their money invested in petroleum.

“A lot of those clients might not want that company in West Texas. That’s fine. It’s their wealth, and they have a role to play in how that wealth is invested,” Forbes said. “So we tailor a portfolio to either exclude certain characteristics or include some of the characteristics these individuals are interested in. Then we do research into these kinds of companies.”

In addition to fossil fuels, some customers have an aversion to military spending, guns, alcohol, gambling, pharmaceutical companies, even investment banks, and don’t want their money invested in one or more of those areas, he explained. Conversely, they might have a special interest in water resources, testing equipment for water purity, solar energy, or any number of other mission-driven businesses.

“Your view of social responsibility can be much different than someone else’s view of social responsibility. So we have to take into account a very wide range of differing views,” he added, noting that such companies must also be suitable investments from a financial perspective — otherwise, there’s not much point in investing in them.

Tailoring portfolios to match a customer’s ESG preferences, Forbes said, is really just an extension of what Renaissance is already doing for clients, which is research on a client-by-client basis — a task that has become much easier in an era of technology that makes information so readily accessible. “It’s time-consuming; there’s no doubt about that, but anything you do well is going to be time-consuming.”

Forbes first became interested in ESG investing during the 1980s, when he began directing money away from South African companies that supported apartheid. Today, a commitment to ESG investments still makes sense, especially in a socially conscious region like the Berkshires.

“It’s gone from a fringe idea, a few people saying, ‘hey, I want to invest in a way that doesn’t offend my values’ to a global movement,” Silipigno said. “Every year, the growth has been exponential.”

He said many larger firms are making ESG investments, but they’re one-size-fits-all portfolios of companies the advisory firm has decided fit the ESG mold, not crafted individually for each client. “They might decide a petroleum company is OK, because a certain amount of its revenues go back into the environment. But that might not be your decision as a client; you might say, ‘I don’t want anybody that profits from fossil fuels.’”

Indeed, Forbes added, “the way you express your social responsibility will be different than someone else’s. The way we do it is more targeted, and we have the technology to achieve that.”

For people worried that investing their conscience might cost them returns on growth, Renaissance has not found that to be the case, Silipigno added. “We’re seeing that our portfolios that are ESG and SRI are tracking with the major indices. So you don’t have to have a drag on your returns to invest in a way that meets your conscience.”

Smart Approach

Renaissance takes on clients with at least a half-million dollars to invest, although that could include a group of smaller accounts — for example, in one household.

“Our average client size is bigger than that, and basically these are people who worked very hard to get their wealth, and they want that wealth to provide them with some security, particularly as they get into later life,” Forbes said. “In some cases, it’s to provide a second generation with some wealth as well, and sometimes it includes charitable giving.”

Renaissance also manages money for foundations and endowments, he added. A large portion of its client base is in the Berkshires or surrounding regions, but the firm also has many clients on the West Coast, Florida, and other points across the U.S.

“We see ourselves as the center of a team of individuals that may include an attorney, an accountant, and a whole range of people who are important in mapping out your future — and succeeding generations as well. And it has to be done on a client-by-client basis. You have to know your clients. That’s important.”

Silipigno said potential clients will come in for a financial checkup, assessing their current financial standing and where their assets are. He often finds people at one of two extremes. Some are currently exposed to a tremendous amount of risk — with money tied up in just a few stocks that have done well, but could be vulnerable to a market downturn — while others have taken an alarmingly conservative approach to their future.

The firm boasts a broad client base in and around the Berkshires, but also across the U.S.

The firm boasts a broad client base in and around the Berkshires, but also across the U.S.

For example, he recently met with a doctor, married with five kids, who had more than a million dollars, all of it tucked away in a savings account, building almost no growth whatsoever — not exactly the most ambitious retirement plan.

Clients who come on board find there’s a happy medium, he said, a way to both grow and protect their assets through a diversified approach. Forbes was quick to note, however, that he doesn’t take the approach of some houses that clients should have a little bit of everything. For example, he shies away from international investments because they’re naturally a little more volatile.

“Some of those risks may be worth taking, but I’ve got to be satisfied that they are worth taking,” he said. “I’ve never believed that you should have a little bit of this, a little bit of that, a little bit of something else just because it adds extra diversification. All of our portfolios are very diversified. But there’s nothing in the theory that suggests you should have something in emerging markets or something in high-yield debt, for example.”

In addition, he explained, “if you look at the typical way portfolio management is run here, we build everything up from the client level. So if we decide, for example, that today is the right day to buy Google, rather than saying, ‘OK, we’re going to buy 1,000 Google, you’re 0.2% of our client base, so you’re going to get 0.2%,’ we approach it differently. We’ll look at your portfolio, then we’ll look at his portfolio, and we’ll model each individual portfolio until we’ve got an aggregation of the amount of Google we want to buy.”

That’s different from how most investment houses organize their strategy, he went on. “It forces the portfolio manager to take account of your requirements at the time we’re actually trading within the account. I think that is an important factor. It is a differentiating factor between Renaissance and a lot of the industry.”

Another selling point is the firm’s transparency in terms of its fee basis. “We don’t invest in third-party funds,” Forbes said. “When you go to one of the larger investment-management organizations, they buy a mutual fund, and that mutual fund has another layer of fees within it, on top of the investment fees you’re already being charged. So your actual level of cost starts to escalate. We don’t believe in that — all our clients are invested in individual stocks and individual bonds. That provides very transparent fees. We think that’s in our clients’ best interest.”

Getting Personal

All these facets of Renaissance’s ethos — a word Forbes used several times for emphasis — certainly creates more work for the team, especially the individualized aspect of the investment process.

“Most investment managers will probably say it’s not a very cost-effective model, but fortunately, these days, we have a lot of technology at our fingertips, and rather than using that technology to determine what we’re going to invest in, we use it to actually inform our approach to investment management, from a research point of view and also from a day-to-day management point of view.”

It’s an approach that has worked for 18 years now, he said, if only because clients know their portfolio will be personally tailored to their assets, goals, risk tolerance — and, yes, even their conscience.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

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