Anne Shumadine Susan Colpitts [Virginian - Pilot]
(Virginian - Pilot Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Anne: We met in 1990 when Susan was at Price Waterhouse, and I had a law firm. We did a fair amount of accounting. We were looking for someone who could do tax returns, and Susan was ready to get out of Price Waterhouse.
Susan: Because of babies. I became a financial planner at that point. I added the CFP (certified financial planner designation) to my CPA. Anne brought me on to do taxes, and then after April 15 we were looking at our clients and trying to figure out what else we could do to add value. Anne was working with a couple of wealthy families in the law firm, so we started looking for planning opportunities with the wealthy families. Estate planning, income tax planning, philanthropy.
Anne: In 1994, we had the opportunity to start Signature. We provide a service that allows our wealthy clients to utilize their wealth in a way that is productive and meaningful to them.
Susan: Which is different for every family. We don't prepare tax returns and certainly don't practice law, but our professional backgrounds are an important part of the value that we add to the clients in terms of understanding the decisions they have to make. Wealthy families tend to be complicated families. The point was to create a single point for integrating all of the knowledge and complexity that wealthy families have to manage. I've actually had some prospective clients ask me why we work with wealthy families. If you can work for wealthy families, I don't know why you wouldn't. They're interesting. From a technical standpoint, there are so many moving parts, so many ways to add value through the application of our intellectual capital.
Anne: In 1994, when we started Signature, any sort of financial planning was a very new industry.
Susan: There was no such thing as wealth management. That was not a term.
Anne: If you wanted to do planning, you had to do it for wealthy people.
Susan: American Express was doing financial planning for middle- class families around management with mutual funds, and that world is pretty routine. One middle-class family, from a technical standpoint, looked a lot like the next family. Their hopes and dreams might differ, but the tools are pretty much the same. If you take a wealthy family, their hopes and dreams are bigger and there are a lot more tools you can bring to bear to help a family accomplish more goals. At the time, our experience was that CPAs and lawyers were doing taxes and practicing law, but nobody was really leaning back and taking the time to consider a wealthy family's complete situation. We now manage $2.8 billion. We have 35 employees.
Anne: We have 170 families from all over. Typically, they have some sort of attachment to Virginia.
Susan: We just got a client in Dallas who happens to know one of our clients, so we have clients all over, but it definitely is Virginia-centric. We have offices in Charlottesville and Richmond. We're an RIA, a registered investment adviser, so we are self- owned. We're independent.
Anne: We don't get paid a commission.
Susan: Our only revenue comes from clients.
Anne: From fees.
Susan: We're a multifamily office that provides all of what wealthy people need: planning for estates, income taxes, charity, insurance and investment. Typically what defines "wealthy" is if someone has enough money to need estate planning.
Anne: Our minimum is $5 million. "Very wealthy" is someone who has had to create trusts, who may have multiple residences and other sorts of business entities, perhaps. They may have foundations.
Susan: We really focus on families with first-generation wealth. We learned all of this just by doing it. Learning is an important piece of our business model. The clients can all benefit. We're very interested in sharing information across the company and with clients. Some clients hire us because they know what they don't know about planning. They could go somewhere else to manage their money, but they want a holistic approach.
Anne: We want to spread geographically. We want to double in five years, but it's not about gathering assets. You can get too big. There's a fine line. We want to grow to offer better opportunities for our clients. We are very selective about our clients. They come in and interview us, but we also interview them.
Susan: We wanted to be able to be fired by our clients, because it makes us better every day.
- As told to Pilot writer Sarah Kleiner Varble
The Colpitts file
Family: husband and three daughters
Education: bachelor's degree in English and master's degree in accounting with a concentration in taxation from the University of Virginia
Hobbies: "We have a place on the Eastern Shore. We like to cook together and have really long dinners."
The Shumadine file
Family: husband, two sons, three grandchildren
Education: bachelor's degree from Wellesley College; law degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at the College of William & Mary (where she was valedictorian of her class).
Hobbies: gardening, reading mystery novels and traveling
Their job is helping the rich
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