Adviser brings clients into the classroom with investment lessons

Financial literacy course by Deborah Stavis targets women and children of wealthy
Deborah Stavis of Stavis & Cohen © Nathan Lindstrom

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Deborah Stavis combines her interests in teaching and financial planning to grow her business. She is one of only 42 women on this year’s FT 400 list of top financial advisers.

Ms Stavis has been teaching a course on investment, retirement and estate planning at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies in Rice University in Houston, Texas since 1984. She had become a financial adviser three years earlier.

“Education is at the very core of what I do,” says Ms Stavis, chief executive of Stavis & Cohen Financial, the advisory business she co-founded in 2009.

The course at Rice University is designed for people in retirement or nearing it. It runs twice a year and lasts seven weeks. Students range in age from around 50 to 70, with an average age of 54.

“Financial literacy is low because education about handling finances or preparing for retirement is not always readily available, and it’s not always considered polite to talk about money,” she says.

The course starts with teaching basic information, such as what a financial adviser is and how they are paid. Then it goes into investing, analysing risk and reward, and retirement and estate planning. Students are not typically Stavis & Cohen clients, nor are they people who tend to take a do-it-yourself approach to investing and financial planning.

When the course reaches the risk and reward part of the curriculum, “most are shocked to realise their portfolios are not aligned with their risk profiles”, she says.

At Stavis & Cohen, Ms Stavis conducts two financial planning workshops, each of which is designed for a specific audience: one for 16-35-year-old children of the firm’s wealthy clients and another for female prospective clients.

The workshop for young adults has been conducted twice a year since 2012. This focuses on the basics of investing and asset allocation, the use of tools such as smartphone apps for budgeting, the importance of investing early, and the roles and responsibilities of trustees and executors.

“These are kids who may just be starting to share in their families’ wealth, or are becoming trustees or executors,” says Ms Stavis, who manages around $420m in client assets. “The parents want us to educate their kids about their family wealth and the transfer of that wealth. In addition, they want us to teach the kids about values and responsibility.”

The workshop aimed at women has been conducted at least four times a year since 2005. It typically has 100 attendees, with a few hundred more taking part via video streaming.

Just like the workshop for young adults, these sessions focus on the basics of investing and asset allocation, but they are also tailored specifically to women’s needs and goals.

A high number of women in the Houston area work in scientific professions such as geophysics or engineering due to demands of the local oil industry.

For the past two years, Stavis & Cohen has also been targeting younger clients, those from around age 40, with investment accounts of $250,000. Ms Stavis says the business has had some success in attracting these clients by using digital technology. “These are people who want investment and asset allocation coaches, but they put a premium on time, and digital technology allows us to cater to these clients,” she says.

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