Slightly more than ten years ago, Chris Lissner, David Ott and Dannelle Ward left the banking industry to for Acropolis Investment Management, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) based in St. Louis.
Acropolis manages investment portfolios for high net worth individuals, institutions and corporate retirement plans. They have a well-seasoned and tenured team, a large and stable client base and serve clients in a fiduciary capacity.
MO: What inspired you to launch your own company instead of working for a more established firm?
David: At the time, we were working for a bank that kept getting gobbled up by larger banks. We didn’t like it and didn’t think it was great for customers, so we thought that being independent would allow us to be more stable than the larger institutions. We were successful within the banks and we wanted create long-lasting value for ourselves rather than other people.
MO: Can you talk about how you managed to navigate the 2008 financial crisis and what you learned during this challenging period?
David: We were prepared in some sense in that we had launched Acropolis during the Tech Wreck and we had of course reviewed the historical data and built financial models that showed that 2008 style market environments.
But, really, nothing prepares you for the real thing. When you hear someone like Warren Buffet say that he hasn’t seen anything worse, you know that it’s a tough environment.
The key to our success was heavy client communication. We were on the phone all day talking to clients about what was going on and what it meant to them. Fortunately, we had done a good job allocating client portfolios between stocks and bonds, so very few adjusted their portfolios during the crisis.
Obviously, we learned a lot during the crisis. We learned that we had great relationships with our clients, we learned that our strategies worked and that we had structured the business to weather the storm. We’ve never had any debt, had a lot of capital and managed our expenses closely, so the business was never in jeopardy.
MO: What are some of the basics of putting together a good investment strategy? Can you share some good resources for people who are interested in starting to invest but uncertain of how or where to begin?
David: There are a few basics that every investor should consider. First, it is critical to understand your objective. Is the investment intended to be short term or long term? Does the money need to stay safe or can you accept volatility with the hope of higher growth? Once you have an understanding of your goals, it’s important to maintain a diversified portfolio that includes US stocks, international stocks and bonds. Then, control what you can, like fees and taxes.
MO: What do you enjoy the most about the investment process?
David: I love that there is an endless amount of learning. No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn. Financial markets are always changing and there is terrific, new academic research coming out all the time.
MO: What are some of the most common mistakes that you see clients make and how can they be avoided?
David: The most common mistake is market timing. When markets are up, like they are now, investors want to add more money or shift into stocks. When markets are down, no one wants to buy stocks – they all want to buy bonds. It’s a shame, but it’s basic human nature. The best strategy is to find an allocation that works for you and stick to it through thick and thin.
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you personally or professionally?
David: One of the best things about Acropolis is that we continue to grow at a nice, steady pace. That creates opportunities for employees and create jobs. When we got started, I was really just thinking about how I could benefit, but now I think about how our whole team can succeed and it’s a great to be a part of that.
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