Seven Questions With Tony Sirianni: Laidlaw Asset Management LLC’s Ken Mathieson
AdvisorHub’s CEO Tony Sirianni sat down with Ken Mathieson, the Founding Partner of Laidlaw Asset Management LLC, and talked about the industry. Tony sits with established leaders of the largest firms, as well as up and coming disruptors, and asks them more or less the same questions, so Advisors can get a sense of how each firm addresses the same issues from different perspectives. Taken together, they are a very interesting collection of influential points of view, and display the diversity of opinions and conclusions in Wealth Management today. You may even get to know these industry leaders on a more personal level.
Laidlaw Asset Management is an SEC Registered Investment Advisor affiliated with Laidlaw & Co ( UK ) Ltd. Established over 175 years ago in 1842, Laidlaw is a truly global, multi custodial wealth management firm. Offices are in NYC, San Francisco, Boca Raton, Boston, Long Island and London.
Question: Why Did you get into this business in the first place?
Answer: My father, grandfather and all of my uncles were policemen. Listening to their stories and the hardships of being a policemen in the 60’s and 70’s really turned me off. In particular, my father was passed up for a promotion (and pay raise) for many years because of societal pressures that were out of his control. The idea that you could work hard, be a loyal employee and not be rewarded just seemed unfair. I wanted to work in an industry that rewarded hard work, loyalty and brotherhood. Like my father I also wanted to help people. I saw that helping people plan for their financial future and the ability to retire enjoying all that hard work was what I wanted to do. Wall Street was a natural fit.
Question: Looking back at the changes over the last 15 years, which have been the most damaging to our business in your opinion? What have been the most exciting and positive?
Answer: The quick answer is pricing pressure from the perspective of an advisor, but I’m not sure that is the most damaging. Wall street has been dealing with pricing pressure for decades. I believe that the most damaging has been lack of transparency and the loss of client trust. Hence the movement away from brokerage and a suitability standard and a movement toward the RIA model with its Fiduciary Standard. In my opinion, the most exciting and positive has been the democratization of Wall Street. When I started working, your only option to getting into the business was to join a firm’s training program, a large firm if you were lucky. The big Wall Street firms controlled all of the trading, all of the research and all of the market access. Today, I believe that power has shifted. Fifty years ago there were thousands of small brokerages. Thanks to visionaries like Sandy Weill, they have all been consolidated and today just a few dominate. Now we see tens of thousands of small firms leveraging large custodial infrastructures and a few major RIA’s and independents. The recent news that Wells Fargo and UBS (and others) are now risking the cannibalization of their business, or in their mind, stemming the outflows of advisors and client assets by launching RIA units, speaks to this point.
The most exciting part is the use of technology and how it allows advisors to better serve their clients and to break away from the wire houses. We use Charles Schwab as a custodian and each year I attend their Impact Conference. It is amazing to attend and learn about all of the vendors and tools that are available to independents. You quickly understand the amazing ecosystem that supports our industry.
Question: How has your firm adapted to address the rapidly changing Wealth Management landscape?
Answer: We are in a very unique position as we are a 177 year old Investment Banking and Brokerage boutique that can adapt very quickly to the changing landscape. Matthew Eitner, the CEO of Laidlaw, recognized that he needed a more robust Wealth Management offering to compliment our Investment Bank and Private Equity offerings. Hence, we created an SEC Registered RIA with an open architecture and best in class custodians, global capabilities, cutting edge technology and a very generous compensation structure with the same class equity ownership as the founders. I have been in the business for over 30 years, mostly as an advisor in a wire house. Five years ago, I moved to be a Founder in an Independent, W2 model firm. That firm executes on a captive platform and I realized that to be part of the future, advisors would want more options and capabilities to meet their clients sophisticated needs. No single custodian can best facilitate all of your client’s needs. That is what we created at Laidlaw.
Question: What part of the Advisor business will never change?
Answer: Trusted advice from a trusted advisor, period. It will always be about the Advisor / Client relationship. Look at what happened when Robos were going to put advisors out of business because millennials wanted technology so they could do it all on their own. That did not and will not happen because they still want a relationship with an advisor.
Question: What 3 things differentiate Laidlaw from the competition?
- Laidlaw Asset Management is a partnership in name and in practice. Every advisor who brings fee based assets to the firm owns shares in the firm and is treated as such.
- As a Universal Wealth Management firm, Laidlaw can help clients in over 170 countries. We are dually registered, holding a U.S. registration and an FCA registration in the U.K. We see the wire houses limiting the countries that their advisors can service all of the time. I see this trend continuing.
- Laidlaw has a unique opportunity to leverage our Investment Bank. Because of our wealth management capabilities, we can help our corporate clients with stock plan administration, 401k, cash management and financial planning for the employees. Most wire houses limit the number of advisors who can do this business. At Laidlaw we are looking for qualified advisors to help us. Look no further than the recent acquisition of Solium by Morgan Stanley. This is big business and will be a major driver for Laidlaw and our advisors.
Question: Would you encourage your children to enter the Wealth Management business?
Answer: The wealth management business is an amazing career choice for many, but it isn’t for everyone. I have three children. I’ve encouraged my oldest to work at Laidlaw. As for the other two, time will tell.
Question: What are your interests outside of the Wealth Management biz?
Answer: My interest outside of work is being a dad. If that means watching a lacrosse game, traveling or cooking with my children etc., than that is what I am interested in, family first. It is also big part of our culture at Laidlaw as we are a young senior management group with families that understand the importance of a well-balanced life.