It may be hard to discern in Santa Barbara, but the country is in the throes of a deep recession. Last year saw the denouement of a financial domino effect that began more than 20 years ago. Last year 2.3 million properties were lost to foreclosure, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 35 percent, and 2.6 million people lost their jobs. As the hemorrhaging of homes, jobs, and savings continues, in Washington, D.C., the Obama administration is attempting to stem the bleeding with an $800 billion-plus stimulus package. Locally, a new financial services firm called Monarch Wealth Strategies is taking a more grass-roots approach toward ensuring that its clients emerge from this recession the better for it.
At Monarch Wealth Strategies, Vanessa Patterson and Aaron Clark have implemented a business model that emphasizes providing the most in-depth and personal service to their clients rather than inflating their profit margins. In addition, the client-oriented firm is striving to entrench itself in the Santa Barbara community through charitable works as well as to fundamentally change the culture of the financial services industry.
Patterson, 29, got into the finance industry for all the right reasons. After graduating from UCSB and receiving her master’s, she served as the business manager for a nonprofit that provided housing for AIDS patients. Her experience as an accountant opened the door for a job at A.G. Edwards, which became Wachovia Securities and is now Wells Fargo. Patterson sought to use her financial expertise to help those who needed it most. “My grandfather lost like 85 percent of his portfolio,” she says when describing what first motivated her to work in finance, “I saw the effect that that had, and on the nonprofit side, many nonprofits don’t have any expertise in the financial arena and I thought that I could help them out.”
At A.G. Edwards, Patterson met another young and like-minded financial consultant by the name of Aaron Clark. Although very successful at their prior firms, they had a vision to join forces and become a leading, trustworthy, and well-respected brand in the financial industry. They demonstrate this by educating and empowering their stakeholders to live financially free and stable lives. “People are paying fees and commissions to get advice, but advisors are not able to monitor them,” said Patterson. “There is an issue with the ways that brokerage houses operate. It’s a management issue and a knowledge issue.”
With the belief that they could do better by their clients, Clark and Patterson left Wachovia Securities in the midst of the financial meltdown to start their own financial services firm. On October 17, 2008, at 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon, Monarch Wealth Strategies opened for business. Their offices remain unmarked – leave it to the workings of city bureaucracy to stand in the way of these young idealists – but their drive and ambition is strong.
“We have three focuses,” explained Patterson. “We work with individuals, businesses, and nonprofits. The difference is that we want to stop that feeling that people are numbers.” According to Patterson, the importance placed on turning profit at larger brokerages often trumps a desire to provide customers with the service they deserve. This very dynamic, explained Patterson, is what proved to be the impetus behind starting Monarch Wealth Strategies. “We want to know and be a part of all of our clients’ lives,” she explained. “We want to be able to have a hard conversation and say the way that you are living you cannot afford to do that. It’s a real life business.
Monarch Wealth Strategies is not the best fit for every client, in which case they are quite happy to recommend alternative services and companies. One thing Clark and Patterson don’t desire to do is give clients the run around. “So many people invested in the market right now have had a really rough year. So many advisors are responding with, ‘It’s okay, don’t worry about it, just wait it out.’ That may or may not be the best thing,” said Patterson. “Our goal is to say this is your allocation, this is how you are invested, but your needs are this. So let’s really look at this, let’s make sure you have the appropriate emergency funds available, let’s make sure your income needs are going to be met, and not try to have too many clients to the point that you are not able to do that.” One example of the lengths they go to for clients are the outside consultants the firm pays for out its own pocket so that clients can make more informed decisions.
For Patterson and Clark, the service they provide to their clients and the peace of mind they gain from knowing they put ethics before profit are the best rewards. “You only need so much money,” said Patterson emphatically. “Nowadays you see all these CEOs making ridiculous amounts of money. We don’t need that. We want to make sure that our clients are doing well, make sure that we feel good about our job.”
Although providing this unique brand of customer service to its clients is the chief goal, the firm is also intent on changing the culture of the finance industry and of America as a whole. Through implementing a more personal, service-oriented versus profit-oriented business model, Clark and Patterson hope to rectify the wrongs they witnessed while working for the big brokerage houses. They seek to do this not only through their own dealings with clients but by inculcating interns in their business philosophy and steeping them in the culture they desire to create. In addition, Monarch Wealth Strategies has enlisted 13 esteemed Santa Barbarans to sit on its board of advisors. The members, who represent a veritable cornucopia of professional disciplines and who all have experience running businesses, will advise the firm on how to better serve the community and advance their social agenda.
While much of the blame for the financial predicament we now find ourselves in can be levied upon the immoral wheeling and dealing of greedy Wall Street financiers, Patterson claims that Americans must also take responsibility for indulging in a gluttonous consumer culture that advocates spending over saving and sound financial planning. “Our culture has to have a different philosophy on money,” said Patterson. “We have led extravagant lives, we don’t save enough, and we spend a lot.”
At Monarch Wealth Strategies the aim is not only to provide clients with the knowledge and know-how to make informed decisions and save for the future but to join in a grassroots movement that champions true wide-scale change, in all sectors of business and society. “Our goal is to grow our business, service our clients, and to create a culture that attracts other advisors,” said Patterson. “We are also interested in carrying forth our vision of the financial industry.”