FREE 7.1 Feature – Ralph Angelo

For colleague Ralph Angelo of Angelo Planning Group (APG), loyalty is a two-way street. After 14 years working at the firm that gave him his start in financial services never was that value tested more fervently—both personally and professionally—than in December 2010 when he and his entire group of 15 financial advisors left their former broker/dealer to join American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc. (APFS).

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    FREE 7.1 Feature – Ralph Angelo

    FREE 7.1 Feature – Ralph Angelo

    The Playmaker – A business model built on loyalty and family.

    For colleague Ralph Angelo of Angelo Planning Group (APG), loyalty is a two-way street. After 14 years working at the firm that gave him his start in financial services never was that value tested more fervently—both personally and professionally—than in December 2010 when he and his entire group of 15 financial advisors left their former broker/dealer to join American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc. (APFS).

    Two years after the dust has settled, and with a major transition behind them, this top 10 APFS OSJ in Rochester, N.Y., has increased their gross dealer concession (GDC) by 40 percent; in two more years they will double that, according to Angelo. But for APG, it’s beyond the numbers. It’s the leap of faith they took together to leave a tried-and-true company and a familiar space in the business they believed was the foundation— the support system—they needed to become the successful financial planning firm they were aspiring to.

    For Angelo, the dues he paid in hard work—a laser-like focus to build his book of business and becoming a top producing advisor—were paid back with relative autonomy to work as he wanted, but to not ask for too much in return. In later years as mounting pressure came down across the organization to meet lofty production levels or face termination, his up-and-coming advisors—rising stars in the business—were vulnerable; and, when he reached out to his B/D at the regional level to support him in competing for some advanced business cases that were brought his way, he was met with lip service and veiled promises that never came to pass. It was time to go. Angelo’s due diligence to find a new servicing broker/dealer revealed one thing—you cannot always predict what you will find.

    Said Angelo of American Portfolios, “My first meeting with AP we barely talked one ounce of business, but it was so personal and so family; that was my attraction. I wanted a place that was going to support our whole firm and not just take care of me.” Today Angelo and his partners are the faces of the future in financial services. With the average age among the group at roughly 40, what APG may lack collectively in years of service they make up for in diversified expertise. Born into a fee-based, financial planning world, each partner at APG has built their practice on a principle tenet that you work on the same side of the table as your client with no distractions of proprietary products; instead, effcient asset planning and rebalancing under a fee structure, as well as access to an extensive range of financial planning and wealth management expertise in estate, retirement, insurance, long-term care and 401(k) planning.

    At age 23, one year after being scooped up by one of the big insurance-owned broker/dealers at a job fair during his senior year at college, Angelo was earning his keep and learned very quickly what he did not want to be—a financial sales person. For the next six years he garnered whatever planning and consultative experience he could. It became apparent to Angelo there were many facets to financial planning, all of which, in his opinion, one advisor could not possibly become proficient in. In 2003 he began aligning with and bringing in people who had expertise in areas where he did not; to this day those people remain partners with Angelo.

    Sarah Fuller, a senior partner with the firm since 2005, reflects on the partnership. “It turned out well for me that I ended up meeting Ralph and some of the earlier partners. It was my career goal to be independent, so the timing could not have been better. Now I completely do what’s right for the client.”

    For Angelo, the turning point in his career and for APG occurred as soon as he convinced his first cousin, Todd Harris, to join him and help run his practice and the firm. A Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude graduate with a dual master’s degree in chemistry and science education from Syracuse University, Harris’ 14-year career in teaching would be put to a very different use. “When I was younger, Todd was kind of a mentor to me. He was a great athlete, a great student. When I hired him on I wanted someone who was family loyal, somebody that I could rely on. That’s why he’s been such a great asset.”

    While their former years at college had Harris and Angelo playing basketball on the court, today they are playing it on the APG floor. You might say Harris takes center, minding the book of business and making the plays, serving as the gatekeeper in the day-to-day ops and being the last line of defense on all compliance matters. Angelo, on the other hand, is the shooting guard, the marksman who scouts the opportunities to score winning client relationships and new business.

    As Rochester is ranked the fifth-best sports town in the country, according to Scarborough Research, it’s no surprise a strong current of athleticism runs through the group, with a handful of the partners having played NCAA divisional sports including basketball, hockey, and track and field.

    “I just feel athletes know how to handle the adversity and the ups and downs of this business,” opines Angelo.

    In fact, one of his original partners from the beginning, Robb Delisanti, was the ball boy for Angelo’s high school basketball team; he went on to college to have a successful academic and basketball career, and has excelled at APG beyond Angelo’s wildest expectations. In the same way Angelo had come into the business four years earlier, Delisanti was thrown into the deep end with what Angelo refers to as “the cement shoes” and left to tread water on his own. Says Angelo of Delisanti, “This was a kid who had his own business to pay for college; he’s got a real entrepreneurial spirit.”

    APG’s business model is designed to have every partner under the APG umbrella derive value by pooling their intellectual capital, not their clients. Their book of business is their own, each knowing they can rely on one another for support, whether it’s offering advice in their specialized planning areas or, if a case is extensive enough, by working out a joint business arrangement.

    “When I have a long-term care case for example, I’ll bring in [Senior Partner] Bob Morse and turn him loose,” says Angelo. “He does everything, does the communication with the client and we share in the compensation. It’s done and I’m not losing control of my client. My clients are so happy that I’m bringing in a resident expert in that field.” At APG loyalty is anything but lip service. It means something and it runs deep. It’s rooted in the family and community that raised Angelo— Honeoye, a small hamlet in New York’s Finger Lakes region 30 miles southeast of Rochester. His mother taught math to four generations of students at the local high school; his father was a former school board member, fire commissioner and now the town supervisor. A young boy of 10, Angelo recalls the banter at the local stomping ground—patrons sitting on the white bench in front of his father’s barber shop—spending many afternoons engaged in the Monday courtside conversations they awaited their turn for the best haircut in town.

    “You know, people ask what the secret of my success is and where I got my best training,” reflects Angelo. “I tell them I used to watch my father treat people so wonderfully. I learned from my father that if you treat people well, you’ll get repeat business.”

    A long family history in the community, his grandparents bought property in Honeoye in the 1930s, where they raised their nine children. In the 1960s, that property became the local haunt— the barber shop with the white bench in front—a permanent fixture for many living there. When a fire swept through the building in the late 1990s, completely destroying it, the barber shop was restored with the help of his father’s best friend, George Ward, the owner of the local lumber yard. Recalls Angelo, “One day when I was visiting my dad, George shows up and asks me why I don’t have an office in Honeoye. He tells me he won’t do business with me because he’s not going to drive into the city to see me. He says, ‘you open a shop out here and I’ll be your first customer.’”

    Ward added an office and conference room for Angelo that abutted the new barber shop; and, true to his word, when he opened his doors for business, Ward became his first customer. The office in Honeoye has served him well. While free throws, three-point field goals and double downs are the exclusive barber shop bench talk on Mondays, it’s college savings, retirement income and diversified portfolios on Thursdays; that’s the day Angelo comes into town every week to meet with his home town clients.

    His practice and that of APG are not steeped in the Rochestarians of Pittsford or descendent bluebloods, but rather the salt of the city; Eastman Kodak employees and retirees, their outside referrals and the spin-off firms created by former Kodak employees like Optimation and Rochester Silver Works, which are revitalizing and reinventing Rochester. While four of Angelo’s uncles had worked at Kodak for many years, greatly enhancing his referral source, his key relationship into Kodak was a gentleman whose twin brother had passed away and wanted to set up a small college fund for his niece, his brother’s only daughter. Ridiculed by some of the top producers in his branch office for wasting his time on such small business, to his credit that one client with the $7,000 investment was pivotal in leading him to others at the firm, resulting in more than $20 million of Kodak-referred business. Says Angelo, “I said to these guys back then, ‘These are people like my family.’ The loyalty and the referred business that came out of that showed me you treat everybody the same whether they have $7,000 or $7 million.”

    For the organization as a whole, APG’s growth model is to cultivate and increase business from within. The results have been phenomenal, according to Angelo. In the last three quarters of 2012, increases from the prior year were realized by everyone at APG, some of whom even doubled their production. With the occasional advisor who has come their way possessing a specialized area of planning or service that would bring value to some or all of the partners, few are brought into APG’s tight-knit group. Angelo, for example, has brought on two junior advisors within the last few years to support his very large practice. His team of four—Todd Harris, the two junior partners (Greg Rahmlow and Bob Dornan) and his office administrator— keep the practice humming behind the scenes in the areas of asset management; creation and preparation of financial, qualified and insurance plans; processing and approval of business; and the day-to-day servicing of client needs. Angelo’s well-orchestrated internal infrastructure— an arrangement he would like to see others in his group gravitate towards—frees him up to see 25-30 clients a week.

    Beyond setting the example, Angelo and Harris have focused their efforts in securing the success of their advisors through partnering arrangements that match strengths to provide a better client experience. For the aspiring young financial planners in the group, they are part of a mentorship program that slowly equips them with the skills and knowledge base they need to stand on their own.

    Says Harris, “Newer advisors almost always partner with an experienced colleague at APG for the first year or two. After that, they are ready to run meetings on their own. At that point, Ralph and I are very confident that they will represent APG in a knowledgeable, ethical and professional manner.”

    Strong proponents of fee-based asset management for its lower cost structure, unlimited money management and flexibility to withdraw at any time without penalty—coupled with technology and allowances through American Portfolios for efficient block trading capabilities, 401(k)s and minimum investments of $25,000 in an advisory platform—APG has created the opportune environment for an advisor to flourish and succeed in a changing financial services landscape. In as much as Angelo wants the group members to be individually and collectively successful, he is quick to impart his feelings about success—that it should not be based entirely on net worth. He believes a person needs to have a healthy work life balance, as well.

    “In my career, the one thing I learned from a lot of successful individuals who weren’t affluent was they had a great balance in their life that included a strong presence and involvement in their families,” says Angelo. “Early on I knew that I didn’t want to be the wealthiest business person; what I wanted to be was a great father and a great husband. So, I needed to figure out a way to grow my business without having to reinvent it every year.”

    Ten years ago, when Angelo met his wife and knew they would marry, he set a goal that within four years he would amass enough assets to generate the compensation he needed to have a normal life and still run a successful and respected business in his community; he did this through fee-based asset management.

    “My kids and my wife are No. 1 and everybody knows that. I’ve built my practice where I service my clients during the day from 7–5 so that I can be home with my family at night.” In fact, when it comes right down to it, everything about APG is family.

    Angelo Planning Group represents a namesake—three generations of a family who have lived in and given to a community. It is about the tightly-knit relationship of individuals who have worked, struggled and stuck together as trusted colleagues and close friends. And most importantly, it is the forging of lasting relationships with APG’s clients and their families to help them secure and protect their financial futures and realize their dreams. Says John Podleski, a senior partner at the firm who’s been with Angelo since 1999, “A true financial advisor does not sacrifice the best recommendation for a client in order to gain more compensation. At APG, we listen to our clients, ask a lot of questions about their family and their desires, and find the solution(s) that always put them first.” So whether it is bringing clients, colleagues and community members together with their families to raise funds for the local children’s hospital through the APG Foundation; APG colleagues banding together to build and move to new office space; or in the next quarter launching APG University, a program that will offer educational classes taught by APG resident experts to existing and potential clients and their children, it is—just as the tagline after the APG name states—“because family matters.”





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