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Mark Blinderman is a graduate of Bernard M. Baruch College, he holds a Bachelor’s degree in International Economics. Mark is a Registered Investment Advisor, Certified Estate Advisor and a Notary Public.
Walnut Investment Services LLC is a small, private, fee-only, investment advisory firm specializing in financial planning, money management and retirement planning – providing highly personalized financial advice to individuals, families and small businesses. The company was founded on the premise that the best financial advice should be independent, unbiased and tailored to each client’s specific needs.
MO: What are some of the most common financial issues that your clients facing and how can they be corrected or avoided altogether?
Mark: While we serve a broad range of clients of different backgrounds, age, social and financial status, we find that they all share some common parallels. Financial security being the primary one. The affluent worry about preserving what they have. The less fortunate worry about where their next dollar is coming from. The ones in the middle are concerned with both! The issue of financial security has become even more acute after the economic crisis of 2008. Not only has it wiped out a lot of physical wealth, but it did something worse – it undermined people’s trust in the system and their belief of a better tomorrow. While we, as investment advisors can do little to solve the political gridlock our country is facing, we are doing our best to educate our clients and to reassure them that the world is not coming to an end and that basic principles of diligent saving, smart investing and prudent spending are still very much intact. We emphasize the fact that in real life it’s rarely the external forces that shape our financial futures, but the internal ones. People who are informed, disciplined and proactive will almost always do better than those who are uninformed, reckless and complacent.
MO: What are some of the advantages of being a private, fee-only investment firm?
Mark: When my business partner and I founded Walnut Investment Services, we made a conscious choice that we want to stay small but independent and to stand out by giving an unparalleled personal service to our clients. We probably could have joined a large broker-dealer or an investment bank, but that would mean sacrificing this very independence and serve the needs of our employer rather than our clients. Being small and private also offers the ability to be nimble and more responsive to the ever-changing investment environment and the changes in the lives of our clients.
Fee-only structure offers simplicity. It allows clients and prospects to easily understand exactly what they are paying for and how much. It also offers the ability for us to remain completely unbiased with our investment methodology because unlike brokers or salesmen – we are not bound to any financial institutions to push their services or products on our clients.
MO: What advice would you give a client who is interested in starting a retirement fund but isn’t where to start?
Mark: First and foremost – start early! Time is the best investment manager. Without boring the reader with numbers and statistics, I’ll just say this; assuming the same rate of return – the person who saves for 40 years will build a retirement nest egg 6 times greater than the person who saved for 20 years. As far as knowing where to start – its easier than ever before. The computer age, especially the Internet revolution has opened a window into the universe of financial information previously available only to the initiated and the very astute. All you have to do is spend some time educating yourself about the choices out there. The plethora of newspapers, magazines and newsletters (both traditional and online) can provide useful insight and direction.
MO: So many businesses are focused on growth and expansion. Can you explain why you’re happy to remain a small sized firm?
Mark: Growth and expansion are fine, if they result in a meaningful benefit to both – the advisor and the client. While Walnut Investment Services is still growing, we recognize that becoming too big will jeopardize our personal relationships with our clients and compromise our ability to offer the highly tailored money management service for which we’re known. The kind of service that contributes to our high client retention and referral rate.
MO: What tips would you give to someone who has a moderate amount of money to invest? What considerations need to be made and what kind of research should they be doing?
Mark: A novice investor may want to start with investing in mutual funds. They provide an easy avenue to start small and build up gradually. Stick with investing directly or through a discount broker (like Fidelity for example) and not through a bank, a full service broker-dealer, or an insurance company. They will almost always steer you into investments that are more advantageous to them rather than you. Go with “no-load” funds only (the ones that do not charge a sales commission). My experience has demonstrated that “load” funds do not offer any meaningful advantages over “no-load” funds. Select the funds that meet your criteria for growth, risk tolerance or even interests and hobbies. For example – my first investment, when I was still in college in the mid 80s, was with a mutual fund that focused on investing in technology companies, especially upcoming one like Microsoft, Apple and Oracle). As you build your nest egg and gain more experience and confidence, you may consider investing in individual stocks. This does take a bit more skill and effort, but offers greater investment choices (and frankly is a lot more fun). Unfortunately, most people, even those with sufficient knowledge, don’t have either the time, or the inclination to go it alone. In this case it would be wise to have your money managed by a professional on a full-time or consultative basis. Whatever method you pick – make sure you chose a licensed and certified advisor (look for such designations as RIA, CFP and CFA). But just like anything in life – it’s important to build a personal relationship, where you are treated as a valuable partner and client and not just another name and number in the Rolodex.
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