Review of Aspiriant

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Updated on Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Aspiriant, LLC is an independently-owned firm with headquarters in Los Angeles and 10 additional offices nationwide. The firm primarily caters to wealthy individuals and families, as well as a smattering of institutional investors, like charities. Aspiriant provides what it calls total wealth management, which includes portfolio management as well as a broad range of specific financial planning services. The firm has 155 employees, 86 of whom perform research or serve as investment advisors to the firm’s more than 1,700 clients.

All information included in this profile is accurate as of December 9th, 2019. For more information, please consult Aspiriant’s website.

Assets under management: $11,669,979,000
Minimum investment: No absolute minimum, but clients typically invest at least $1.5 million
Fee structure: A percentage of AUM, ranging from 0.2% to 1%, depending on account size (Minimum annual fee: $14,000)
Headquarters:11100 Santa Monica Blvd.
Suite 600
Los Angeles, CA 90025
aspiriant.com
310-806-4000

Overview of Aspiriant

Aspiriant is independently owned, with roughly 65 of its current employees owning shares in the holding companies that own the firm. Aspiriant is the product of a 2008 roll-up of the Los Angeles-based wealth management firm Quintile and the San Francisco-based firm Kochis Fitz. Today, the combined entity, which also absorbed Deloitte’s national investment practice in 2010, manages over $11 billion in client assets and has spread its geographic footprint, with five offices in California as well as locations in Austin, Boston, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and New York.

The firm’s specialties beyond wealth management include family office services and divorce consulting. Aspiriant, which has 86 investment advisors and researchers on staff, has earned spots on recent lists of top investment advisors compiled by Barron’s as well as the Financial Times. The firm’s co-founder and CEO, Rob Francais, was inducted into Barron’s Hall of Fame in 2019 for his work in the field.

What types of clients does Aspiriant serve?

Aspiriant primarily serves high net worth individuals and families, including corporate executives, business owners, foundations and family and limited partnerships. Clients typically have investment portfolios of $1.5 million or more. However, the firm does not have an absolute minimum account size requirement, and some of its clients do have more modest levels of investable assets. For particularly complex situations, however, a portfolio larger than $1.5 million may be required.

Aspiriant also provides investment management and consulting services to some institutional investors, such as charitable organizations, trusts, pension and profit-sharing plans and corporations and other businesses.

Services offered by Aspiriant

Aspiriant can manage your investment portfolio, as well as advise on other areas of your finances, including your estate, taxes, retirement, education, compensation, cash flow and philanthropic goals. In addition, the firm has certified divorce financial analysts (CDFAs) on staff to provide divorce consulting services. For each client, Aspiriant crafts an individualized investment management program that aligns to their specific needs.

Aspiriant also has an in-house, 35-person team that provides family office services, such as filing taxes, paying bills, buying insurance and planning family legacies. This team can also educate multiple generations about living with their wealth.

In addition to its services for individuals and families, the firm offers investment management services for institutional investors.

Here is a complete list of services offered by Aspiriant:

  • Investment management for individuals and institutions (both discretionary and non-discretionary)
  • Financial planning services
    • Tax planning
    • Estate planning
    • Charitable giving
    • Retirement planning
    • Education goals planning
    • Risk management
    • Expense management
    • Compensation planning
    • Liquidity and cash flow needs
    • Private foundations and business entities
    • Divorce financial consulting
  • Family office services
    • Family legacy planning
    • Estate document preparation
    • Alternative investment coordination
    • Tax and compliance filing
    • Bill paying and reporting
    • Foundation management
    • Insurance

How Aspiriant invests your money

Aspiriant creates customized plans for each client, investing their money in a mix of global and domestic stocks, bonds, mutual funds (some of which Aspiriant may advise), ETFs, real estate, cash and other instruments. The personalized plans take into consideration the client’s individual circumstances, as well as Aspiriant advisors’ market outlook for the short and long term and which asset classes they expect to perform well.

The firm starts the process by having each client speak extensively with an advisor about their goals, risk tolerance, time horizon, cash needs and expected returns. Based on those conversations, the client and their advisor will agree on an appropriate asset allocation. Aspiriant prefers the advisor to then be in charge of choosing the specific investments to meet those goals, known as discretionary management. However, some clients have non-discretionary relationships with Aspiriant, meaning the client must approve trades.

When choosing investments, Aspiriant may recommend that clients invest in the publicly-traded mutual funds that it manages. A small percentage of clients also invest in private equity and real estate funds that Aspiriant advises. A $500,000 minimum investment is required for those private funds.

Fees Aspiriant charges for its services

To manage your portfolio, Aspiriant charges an annual fee based on a percentage of assets under management, which typically starts at 1% and ranges down to 0.20% for larger portfolios. The minimum annual fee is $14,000, though the firm discloses that all fees are negotiable. Each quarter the investment management fee is automatically debited from client accounts.

Clients also will likely pay fees to third parties, such as expense ratios and trading costs, in addition to the advisory fee.

On top of your portfolio management fee, you’ll pay for wealth planning services, which can include financial planning, estate planning, tax planning, tax return preparation, expense management and bill payment services, retirement planning, risk management and philanthropy. Retainer fees range from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the complexity of the services offered and the time involved. Clients also may pay an hourly rate for special projects and/or ongoing consulting, with rates typically ranging from $100 to $695. The firm says that these fees are also negotiable.

Aspiriant’s highlights

  • Fee-only: As a fee-only firm, Aspiriant earns money solely through the fees that its clients pay for advice and portfolio management. This means that it has no financial incentive to recommend certain products to earn commissions or referral revenue, which mitigates potential conflicts of interest.
  • Awards for its track record: Aspiriant has nabbed high marks on many coveted rankings of top investment advisors. For example, it has appeared on Barron’s top RIAs list for more than 10 years, ranking 13 out of 50 firms in 2019. Aspiriant has also made the list of the top 300 RIAs from the Financial Times since the list launched six years ago.
  • Employees hold ownership stake: Aspiriant is independently owned by holding companies, which 63 of the firm’s current employees own shares in. Aspiriant believes that this helps provide continuity for clients and a clear road map for ownership succession.
  • Access to alternative investments: Aspiriant provides some clients access to private equity and real estate funds without charging an additional fee. This allows clients to further diversify their portfolio and gain exposure to investments that may not move in lockstep with the stock market.

Aspiriant’s downsides

  • Caters primarily to the wealthy: Given the typically $14,000 minimum annual fee, many investors just starting out or who don’t have seven-figure portfolios may feel Aspiriant’s services are out of reach. Most clients who work with Aspiriant have a portfolio value of at least $1.5 million. That’s not to say Aspiriant won’t work with more modest incomes, though. About 25% of its individual clients are not high net worth individuals, who are defined by the SEC as having at least $750,000 under management or a total net worth of more than $1.5 million.
  • No published fee schedule: Unlike many other registered investment advisors, Aspiriant’s does not publish a tiered fee schedule. The firm states that clients’ fees will fall in the range of 0.2% to 1%, but you can’t easily see ahead of meeting with an advisor at the firm how much you should expect to pay or how much you need to invest to nab the lowest fee rate.
  • Additional charges for ongoing financial planning: Some registered investment advisors include financial planning and other services beyond investing in their standard asset-based fee. Aspiriant charges separately for these recurring wealth planning services, either by the hour or per project. If you decide to work with Aspiriant, make sure to ask your advisor what comes as part of their wealth planning services.
  • Private funds lock up your money: Though the private equity and real estate funds offered by Aspiriant are unique investing opportunities, they may have limited liquidity for 10 to 15 years. Additionally, the strategies that these funds pursue “are not completely transparent to investors,” Aspiriant notes in its Form ADV.

Aspiriant disciplinary disclosures

All registered investment advisors are required to disclose in their Form ADV, paperwork that they file with the SEC, any legal, regulatory or criminal action that is material to a client’s evaluation of the advisory business or of the integrity of the management personnel. Aspiriant has had no such events over the last 10 years, meaning it has a clean disciplinary disclosure record.

Aspiriant onboarding process

To arrange an initial conversation with an Aspiriant, reach out to the firm’s director of marketing, Cammie Doder, by phone at 415-371-788, or by filling out the form on the Start a Dialogue page of Aspiriant’s website. If you live near one of Aspiriant’s 11 offices, you can meet an advisor in person. If not, plan on a phone call with an advisor at Aspiriant.

For ongoing communications with clients, Aspiriant advisors typically meet with their clients at least annually, though meetings may be as frequent as every quarter. The firm also communicates with clients over email or on the phone throughout the year. Clients receive quarterly reports, typically electronically, although portfolios smaller than $250,000 receive only annual updates.

Additionally, clients will need a brokerage account with a third party to hold their assets, since Aspiriant is not a broker-dealer and does not take physical custody of your assets. Aspiriant recommends that clients use Charles Schwab, Fidelity or TD Ameritrade, though clients are free to choose other providers. Clients will receive regular statements from these firms as well.

If an advisor has discretion to choose investments on a client’s behalf, the client will need to execute a limited power of attorney granting Aspiriant permission to execute trades.

The bottom line: Is Aspiriant right for you?

If you’re willing to pay at least $14,000 annually in fees and want a professional to handle all trading through discretionary management, Aspiriant may be worth a look. The firm may also be a good fit for high net worth individuals and family offices looking for comprehensive financial planning and wealth management, as well as investors who desire access to alternative investments like private equity or real estate funds.

While Aspiriant doesn’t have a firm minimum investment requirement, it does say that most of its clients have portfolios of at least $1.5 million, and many of its services do cater to the wealthy. Plus, the firm does not publish a clear fee schedule, so it may be hard to know before you talk to a representative how much you can expect to pay — especially if you also want financial planning services, which the firm charges extra for on top of investment management.

Before you make a decision on whether Aspiriant is right for you, make sure to do your research, compare your options and, perhaps most importantly, think carefully about your own financial situation.

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