The Rochester and Latham offices began working together about 12 years ago, when they realized there was overlap between their respective client bases and geographical footprint and therefore opportunities for teamwork.
The collaboration has allowed the team to better serve a wide variety of clients.
“My institutional client base was smaller numerically than his, but they were of a larger size,” Caropreso said. “I was in an institutional niche in construction-related benefit plans, multi-employer funds, while Marc also had experience in foundations and endowments and other large institutions, hospitals, districts, charitable organizations. Marc also occasionally shared the enjoyment of working with Taft Hartley clients, having over a half dozen himself since as early as 1991. “For me, my institutional practice was a smaller percentage of my overall business, and the resources that I had available to me in Albany were less than the resources I would have enjoyed had I not teamed up with Marc.”
That partnership was formalized in 2019, in order to leverage collective resources, better communicate, and share technology.
“Just in the act of teaming actually officially they become more streamlined, more plugged into our group,” Fischer said. “Having them, even in Albany, it does not matter. They could be across the planet and we would have the same kind of synergies that go with that, because they participate truly at our day-to-day. They can literally see all the data like we see it live on the screens and they are not just an outside group that we work with.”
Having offices in Rochester and Latham also offers the Fischer Group better geographical representation.
“We are obligated in most cases to visit our clients in person, post-COVID, and to visit our clients quarterly… to always be available,” Fischer said. “We have multiple advisors on each relationship at all times so that they can see not only the team approach to it but with the coverage that we have. With our competitors, it is very rare to see more than one financial advisor at the meetings. Our clients find it more comforting to know that there is a team that is behind them and in different individuals that they can reach out and touch.”
‘You just cannot buy that’
Like some 60 other Graystone directors nationally, Fischer and his team work with both individual and corporate/institutional clients. In addition to the firm’s own experience, one of the big draws is its relationship with financial powerhouse Morgan Stanley. As Graystone’s parent company, Morgan Stanley provides the structure that allows individual teams to serve their clients in a truly unique capacity.
“That is probably the single largest advantage that we have over most of our competitors,” Fischer said. “It is not only the experience of the financial advisor, but also the financial backing, the critical administrative support, and the health of the sturdiness of the capital, the firm, is key.”
Morgan Stanley provides significant backing in the form of financial and legal resources that are essential when Fischer’s team are acting in a fiduciary capacity for their clients, which applies to nearly all their institutional relationships and to many of their retail clients as well.
“Morgan Stanley gives us the backing of a global institution,” Caropreso said. “We have got at our fingertips more resources than I can fathom. You just cannot buy that.”
The Fischer Group at Graystone has access to technology, staffing, research, and other resources that other firms don’t. Included in these resources is the legal structure and oversight components that allow their consultants to take on a co-fiduciary role with their institutional clients. In order to remain free from conflicts of interest, consultants cannot use Morgan Stanley managers or products within their consulting client’s portfolios, preserving their position as a truly independent advocate of their clients.
“Morgan Stanley is a very good partner,” Fischer said. “They are very supportive of the teams.”
“I would say our clients think what is most important with our partnership with Morgan Stanley is the fact that we are a fiduciary,” Fischer said. “In most cases, we are a co-fiduciary and we actually take the same amount or multiple times the same amount of risk as the trustees themselves.”
With their long history of serving institutional clients, the team understands their obligations, and the special trust relationship that comes with undertaking fiduciary responsibility in partnership with boards of trustees, or as consultant to a corporate retirement plan
It’s a comfort to clients if they have a fiduciary with ample resources to educate and protect them.
Not just stocks and bonds
The resources and support of Morgan Stanley allows the Fischer Group to provide a number of services to all client types, and access to a large suite of investment options that can be customized and mixed to help meet each unique client need. The group boasts several members with “Alternative Investments Director” titles, which gives them particular experience with utilizing the specialized subset of investment options known as “alternative investments.”
This sometimes esoteric asset class- from hedge funds to managed futures, commodities and private equity, among many others- goes beyond traditional stocks or bonds. Having worked with investors for more than 30 years, the team has the experience to advise and educate clients on these kinds of investments. The firm prides itself on the ability to cater to both corporate and individual clients and to provide a tailor-made approach to portfolio construction and oversight.
“Going back 30 years, the consulting industry… was really just stocks and bonds,” he said. “In the day back in the 1970s and ‘80s, very high net worth investors had alternate investments. Now it has become more mainstream as they become more available to individual investors.”
In particular, Fischer said the consultant’s role is to educate clients about their investments, because particularly when it comes to alternative investment options, ensuring the client meets appropriate suitability guidelines and understands their investment choices is key.
“It is a part of the job that we do in our role as educators. Most of our clients are boards, their trustees, their members that really represent pools of money that is not theirs,” he said. “Part of what they are obligated to do as trustees, they need to become constantly educated as to what it is because they are responsible for those pools of money. That is where we have the training and the commitment to do that type of work, and educate them, and make them comfortable with those types of investments as part of our process.”
Another important part of the Fischer Group’s business is navigating jointly- trusteed benefit packages sponsored by labor unions and contributing employers called Taft-Hartley plans. Caropreso explained that the packages are similar to the kinds of plans offered by single employers. The primary difference is that the plan is managed under a trust with trustees appointed or elected by the union and a group of contributing employers as opposed to a single employer. The union member plan participants don’t work for the same company day in and day out. The particular intricacies of investment management for these multi-employer plans require some special expertise to understand and service. The team’s long history of serving Taft-Hartley plans in the construction trades give them ample experience in helping clients with these needs.
“In order for these plans to work, the plan has to follow the worker from employer to employer,” Caropreso said. “So you end up with benefit packages made up of typical pensions, defined contribution plans for retirement, kind of like a 401k plans, and healthcare plans.”
The Group is responsible to help trustees representing the unions and employers make investment decisions for those pools of money to ensure their security and growth to meet stated goals and objectives for their participants.
“We are helping them select investment strategies, managers, products to meet the obligations of each of those plans,” he said.
The Fischer Group’s deep understanding of the needs of clients, the available universe of investment options, and abundant resources of their parent company allow them to match clients with a customized consulting solution.
While the Fischer Group offers a wide variety of services and amenities, Caropreso said it’s the expertise that sets the firm apart from its competitors.
“We’re ultimately here to serve the local community,” he said. “We have more skin in the game. And at the end of the day, we want to do a better job for less money, better results, more service than any other people that would come in from out of town.”
“Clients come to us because they need the global presence of Morgan Stanley backing-wise and the experience of Graystone Consulting, the back office, the research, the capital, et cetera,” he said. “But they also love the local presence, the dedication to the community.”
Caropreso said that all of the changes the Fischer Group has made in the last few years has been to benefit its clients.
“The desire to add more people, that’s not because we want to become more wealthy, it is because we want to do a better job,” he said. “That is really the story of the Fischer group and it is the way that we would see it grow.”
For the last 30 years, and for many more, Fischer’s Group hopes to continue to serve local communities throughout New York State by using their considerable historical experience and the significant resources offered by their parent company, to enhance outcomes for clients. The formalization of the partnership between Managing Director Marc Fischer and Senior Vice President Mark Caropreso, has allowed them to expand their geographical footprint, and created synergies to the benefit of all clients. The team’s commitment to delivering local service means you may see members of the group at golf tournaments, the clambake, steak roast, or any other event that would allow them to follow through on their promise of creating a true partnership with clients. To learn more about The Fischer Group, visit: https://graystone.morganstanley.com/the-fischer-group-at-graystone-consulting
Source: Barrons.com (April 2021). Barron’s Top Institutional Consulting Teams were evaluated on a range of criteria, including institutional investment assets overseen by the team, the revenue generated by those assets, the number of clients served by the team, and the number of team members and their regulatory records. Also considered were the advanced professional designations and accomplishments represented on the team. The rating is not indicative of the Institutional Consulting Director’s past or future performance. Neither Morgan Stanley, Smith Barney LLC nor its Institutional Consulting Directors pay a fee to Barron’s in exchange for the rating. Barron’s is a registered trademark of Dow Jones & Company, L.P. All rights reserved.
Source: Barrons.com (March 2021). Top 1,200 Financial Advisors: State-by-State as identified by Barron’s magazine, using quantitative and qualitative criteria and selected from a pool of over 4,000 nominations. Advisors in the Top 1,200 Financial Advisors list have a minimum of seven years of financial services experience. Qualitative factors include, but are not limited to, compliance record and philanthropic work. Investment performance is not a criterion. The rating may not be representative of any one client’s experience and is not indicative of the financial advisor’s future performance. Neither Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC nor its Financial Advisors or Private Wealth Advisors pays a fee to Barron’s in exchange for the rating. Barron’s is a registered trademark of Dow Jones & Company, L.P. All rights reserved.
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