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The Music, and Your Money, is Better in the Hands of an Ensemble

Andrew Stewart, CFA
May 11, 2021

Registered Investment Advisor

I grew up with music. A violin was shoved in my arms at the age of 4. After a bad experience with a Suzuki method teacher, I quickly switched to piano. My parents were fine with me moving around. My father, a classical composer, had only two rules: you have to play an instrument and you have to practice. My favorite time with music was in high school, when I played the cello in a full orchestra, as a soloist, and best of all: in a string quartet with three of my friends. It was a great balance of working to be the best cellist I could while also playing with a team to achieve a group goal.

Chamber music doesn’t have a conductor, leadership is passed around dynamically throughout a performance. You are always aware of what your teammates are doing, while also playing your own part. When one player has the melody, the rest pull back to let them shine. When someone is having some trouble, the group works around it to help them out and keep the music moving. Sometimes, you’re playing jazz and doing some improvisation. Regardless, you must work as an ensemble. As a self-described ensemble firm, Exchange Capital Management strives to emulate the collaboration heard from the best musical groups. We are all working as a group to perform excellently for our clients.

When Things Are In Tune

Just like a string quartet can produce a greater range of music than a solo violinist, a team of professionals with varied expertise can provide better advice for clients. A good ensemble wealth management team will utilize different members of the group to address the needs of each client. This might happen in a way that you can see, with multiple members of the team in the client meetings. More often, however, it happens backstage, with the client’s primary advisor rallying the resources needed to support their work in the background. Furthermore, since many of us are often getting looped into other teammates’ work, we learn from their work and point out their blind spots. When one advisor builds a better mousetrap for a particular client problem, they will tell the other advisors all about it and how it relates to the clients they work with, because they have worked with those clients already too.

When a String Breaks

People get sick, go on vacation, go to conferences, have family emergencies, and get bogged down in time consuming projects. Nonetheless, our clients deserve consistent, high-quality, fiduciary service. An ensemble firm has built-in coverage for both internal and client-facing work. We document what we do and how we do it, and we practice the work together. Every client has one or two people at Exchange Capital playing their melody, with more than twice that keeping the beat and playing harmony in the background.

Heaven forbid, employees can become more permanently side-lined too. Even so, the clients who have been working with them should continue to be served in top-notch fashion. Ensemble wealth management firms recognize this possibility, rather than ignore it. We are constantly training the next generation of professionals. We also look for opportunities to introduce them to our clients in ways that add value to the service we provide, both today and for years to come. When a colleague must pack up their instrument, they will be able to do so knowing that the relationships and work that they have built and maintained will be carried on successfully.

When performing music, all sorts of things can go wrong. You can lose your place in the music, you can get a finger cramp, or the flower girl can grab your bow while you’re playing a wedding gig. In an ensemble, your team has your back and can keep the music going while you recover. This makes it easier for the musicians to do their jobs, but who benefits the most? The audience.

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Andrew Stewart, CFA, CAIA is Chief Investment Officer and Partner at Exchange Capital Management, a fee-only, fiduciary financial planning firm. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.

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