Stavis & Cohen Financial has evolved the way it incorporates education into its wealth transfer services in response to the changing needs of its clients — especially younger investors and technology-savvy clients of all ages.

The biggest change is incorporating on-demand digital technology services and so-called family retreats into their wealth transfer services. In both cases, the motivating factor for the change is clients’ need to engage in financial education on their own time.

“We’ve transitioned to an on-demand library in digital format so they can access our [educational] resources when they want to on their own time and terms,” says Deborah Stavis, the Houston-based co-founder and CEO of the firm, part of the Advisor Group broker-dealer network.

Since 1981, Stavis has been teaching a seven-week continuing education class on investment, retirement and estate planning at Rice University — and much of the content developed for the class is now also being used for the company’s digital library.

Topics include income tax requirements, budgeting, the difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA, trusts and beneficiaries, and estate planning.

“We’re constantly creating content” for the class and the digital library, she says.

The digital library also uses third-party tools, such as the web-based personal financial management service Mint.com to teach clients about budgeting. The website is owned by Intuit, the maker of Turbo Tax.

Digital tools, such as Mint.com, tend to be popular among the younger set of investors like the adult children of Stavis & Cohen’s clients.

“They like it because they can put it on their iPhone,” Stavis says. “All of the information about their expenditures is automatically put in their phone, which is even categorized. They can say, ‘Oh, hey, I probably spent a little bit too much on my health club or my eating out.”

Stavis says providing clients with financial education using digital tools they can use on their own is more appealing to most of their clients. “They seem to be much happier this way than if we stand up and do a lecture,” she says.

Stavis & Cohen’s clients range from 18 to 85 years old, with 65 the average age. Some of the children of their clients who can gain access to the company’s digital library are as young as 15.

The company manages around $500 million, averaging $3.3 million per household client, says Stavis.

The transfer of wealth to the next generation is among the key services the company provides.

“Our clients have been telling us that they’re really worried that their kids might not be able to handle the responsibility of being a trustee or manage the complexity of a large inheritance,” Stavis says.

“Most of our clients have served as an executor or a trustee themselves, and they know the complexity that lies ahead for their 35- or 45-year-old kids. There are so many tax traps — just think about the inherited IRA, families who have family limited partnerships and irrevocable and revocable trusts,” she adds.

Stavis emphasizes that her clients don’t want to just transfer money, “they want to transfer values and that takes time.”

The family retreats Stavis & Cohen has conducted since 2016 are in response to the challenge of trying to conduct group sessions for their clients and their families every summer and in December.

“It was just getting harder and harder to get everyone — especially all the kids — together in one place,” says Stavis, who notes that they still do this if the demand calls for it “but not like clockwork like we used to.”

The family retreats are aimed at meeting the clients’ goal of transferring values to their children in a more exclusive setting.

From these family retreats, the clients want to “give their children some sense of the complexity” of their wealth and the “trouble they’ve gone though” to organize the transfer of wealth to their children, according to Stavis.

Deborah Stavis

Stavis says some family retreats delve deeper, depending on the clients’ needs. Some clients need to discuss charitable strategies, private foundations or donor-advised funds with their children.

For Stavis & Cohen, the family retreats are an opportunity to deepen the relationship with the next generation of potential clients. Nearly half, or 47%, of the high net worth practices surveyed by research firm Cerulli Associates in 2018 indicated that the primary reason a client (and their assets) departed a firm over the past year was because the original client passed away and the beneficiaries opted to leave after inheriting the assets.

Stavis and Cohen's family retreats are conducted by a lead advisor partnered with a junior advisor, one family at a time. The retreat is usually held at the family’s home or other property — the more laid-back the better — and lasts half a day, capped with a lunch where additional questions can be raised.

Before the retreat, the company asks each family member to complete an insight profile that covers how they behave and how they make decisions, among other things.

The company also asks them to go through a motivator map that covers why they do what they do, what’s important to them and what values drive their decisions, for example.

“We’ve helped facilitate some really incredible discoveries for the families,” Stavis says.