Review of Buckingham Strategic Wealth

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Updated on Thursday, March 5, 2020

Buckingham Strategic Wealth, LLC is a registered investment advisor (RIA) firm based in St. Louis with satellite offices in an additional 34 locations throughout the United States. With 210 investment advisors on staff, Buckingham provides comprehensive financial planning to its clients as well as investment management services.

In addition to serving individual investors, Buckingham also advises retirement plan sponsors, charitable organizations and foundations. The firm currently has more than $15.5 billion in assets under management (AUM).

All information included in this profile is accurate as of March 5, 2020. For more information, please consult Buckingham Strategic Wealth’s website.

Assets under management: $15,523,330,180
Minimum investment: $500,000
Fee structure: Percentage of AUM, ranging from 0.35% to 1.25%; hourly fees; fixed fees
Headquarters: 8182 Maryland Avenue
Suite 500
St. Louis, MO 63105
(314) 725-0455

Overview of Buckingham Strategic Wealth

Buckingham Strategic Wealth was founded in 1994 by Bert Schweizer and Stuart Zimmerman, both accountants who wanted to provide clients with a better financial advisory experience than they believed they were getting from their existing advisors. Paul Forman and Steve Funk joined them as co-founders. Of the founders, Schweitzer remains at the firm as a client experience advisor.

Buckingham Strategic Wealth is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Focus Operating LLC, which is in turn wholly owned by Focus Financial Partners, a Nasdaq-traded company that owns several RIA firms. The firm is headquartered in St. Louis and it has branch offices in an additional 34 locations, including in Houston, Miami and Denver. Buckhingham has 448 employees on staff, including 210 who perform investment advisory functions.

What types of clients does Buckingham Strategic Wealth serve?

Buckingham Strategic Wealth primarily serves individuals and high net worth individuals. For reference, the SEC defines high net worth individuals as those with at least $750,000 in assets under management or a net worth exceeding $1.5 million. In particular, the firm specializes in serving dental practice owners. Aside from individual investors, the firm’s advisors also manage money for pension and profit-sharing plans, charitable organizations and corporations.

Buckingham Strategic Wealth has a $500,000 investment minimum. However, the firm may make exceptions for clients with smaller account sizes, particularly if they have family relations of clients with higher account balances.

Services offered by Buckingham Strategic Wealth

Buckingham is a full-service wealth management firm that offers a large menu of services. When Buckingham begins working with a client, the firm determines the client’s goals and objectives, which are set forth in a written investment policy statement. Buckingham then builds an investment portfolio that helps clients meet their objectives, risk tolerance and required rate of return. Buckingham regularly monitors client portfolios to ensure that they continue to meet their defined objectives.

As a complement to its investment advisory service, Buckingham provides financial planning advice to help clients integrate their personal and professional lives. This offering, known as Practice Integrated Wealth Management, is typically an add-on to Buckingham’s service, but in some cases can be a stand-alone service.

Buckingham also works with retirement plan sponsors to help them create and service retirement plans for their employees. In these instances, Buckingham will provide investment research and recommendations for the types of investments the plan should include. In addition, the firm also provides investment education to employees. In some cases, Buckingham may manage the retirement plan assets.

Another service offered by Buckingham is as a sub-advisor to other independent RIAs. The firm will provide individual account management, usually for fixed income, for the other firm’s clients.

Here is a complete list of services provided by Buckingham Strategic Wealth:

  • Asset management
  • Financial planning (offered as part of wealth management or on a standalone basis)
    • Retirement planning
    • Charitable gift planning
    • College planning
    • Estate planning
    • Risk management counsel
    • Transition planning
    • Tax planning, preparation and/or advisory services
    • Divorce planning
    • Cash flow analysis
    • Death and disability
    • Assistance with outside accounts
  • Practice Integrated Wealth Management
  • Sub-advisory services
  • Employee benefit retirement plan services

How Buckingham Strategic Wealth invests your money

Buckingham Strategic Wealth practices “evidence-based investing,” which draws on historical, observable market behaviors. The firm, guided by its chief research officer, Larry Swedroe, dives deep into the latest academic research to understand what works in the markets and what doesn’t. Therefore, you won’t find active management in Buckingham portfolios, which is when investment decisions are made based on educated inferences about what the market may do.

Swedroe and his team maintain that beating the market is difficult and costly. However, they believe that investors can control factors like costs and tax efficiency to improve returns. Additionally, building on the work of Nobel prize winner Eugene Fama, Buckingham maintains that small-cap, value and positive momentum stocks have proven to outperform over time and Buckingham’s portfolios reflect these biases. In addition, the firm has a small allocation to alternative investments.

To implement these views, Buckingham favors mutual funds and exchange-traded funds that also practice passive and evidence-based investing. These include companies like AQR, Bridgeway and Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA).

For the fixed-income component of a client’s portfolio, which the firm institutes in an effort to reduce volatility, it creates customized laddered portfolios of individual bonds. The strategy calls for holding bonds of varying maturities. As one bond comes due, its proceeds are reinvested. Clients who don’t have large fixed-income positions are invested in low-cost, passively managed fixed-income mutual funds.

Fees Buckingham Strategic Wealth charges for its services

Buckingham Strategic Wealth charges for its services in a few different ways, including asset-based fees, hourly fees and fixed fees.

Wealth management and asset management fees

Clients are charged for the firm’s wealth management or asset management services based on a percentage of assets under management, ranging from 0.35% to 1.25% depending on the size and complexity of the client’s account, as well as the services requested.

Buckingham generally charges a minimum annual fee of $5,000 for wealth management services, which includes financial planning, and a minimum quarterly fee of $250 for investment management, which the firm describes as a “condensed offering” of the former. Fees can be reduced if clients receive a portion of their investment advice elsewhere.

In addition to these fees, clients will pay fees charged by the mutual funds or exchange-traded funds that Buckingham selects for inclusion in their portfolio. For clients who wish to use a separately managed account provider for some portion of their portfolio, they will incur whatever fees are charged by that third-party provider.

Limited-scope service fees

For services provided in a more limited scope, such as tax preparation and tax planning, Buckingham charges hourly fees. In those cases, the firm typically charges between $200 and $350 per hour, with the rate dependent upon the nature and complexity of the services provided.

Practice Integrated Wealth Management fees

Clients who participate in Buckingham’s Practice Integrated Wealth Management program pay a fixed fee, which is negotiable but typically runs between $150 and $825 a month. Practice Integrated Wealth Management provides only financial planning guidance, not investment advice or execution.

Buckingham Strategic Wealth’s highlights

  • Fee-only firm: Buckingham Strategic Wealth is a fee-only firm, meaning it does not sell any financial products and does not accept commissions for its services. What’s more, Buckingham also doesn’t charge performance-based fees, which could push portfolio managers to take outsized risks in the hopes of boosting returns.
  • Large geographic footprint: With offices in 35 locations covering practically all regions of the country, clients can easily access a Buckingham advisor near them.
  • Focus on passive, low-cost investments: Given Buckingham’s belief in evidence-based investing, the firm favors mutual fund companies that don’t engage in costly stock and bond picking that must employ cadres of portfolio managers and analysts. Instead, Buckingham almost exclusively uses AQR, Bridgeway and DFA low-cost, passive fund families.
  • Awards and recognition: Buckingham has won a number of awards for its advisory services, including landing the No. 10 spot on Barron’s list of the Top 50 RIAs in 2019 and No. 16 on Financial Advisor magazine’s 2019 RIA rankings. It also appeared on AdvisorHQ’s rankings of the Best Financial Advisor in both Indianapolis and St. Louis.
  • No disciplinary disclosures: Buckingham has a clean disciplinary record, with no disclosure events noted in its Form ADV (see more below).

Buckingham Strategic Wealth’s downsides

  • High minimums: Given Buckingham’s $500,000 minimum threshold, those who are just starting their saving and investing journey won’t be able to receive advice here. That said, the firm does make exceptions to its account minimum at its discretion, including for family members of existing clients.
  • Obscure fee structure: Buckingham states that its fees range from 0.35% to 1.25%, but it does not break out any tiers for different fee levels. That makes it difficult to compare Buckingham with other RIAs until prospective clients meet with the firm.
  • Limited brokerage options: Clients must maintain their assets at one of three brokerage firms: Fidelity, Schwab and TD Ameritrade. Buckingham acknowledges that the commissions of these brokers may be higher than at others. The firm also acknowledges that it may receive economic benefits from these trading relationships that are not available to retail clients, but it makes a point of disclosing them.

Buckingham Strategic Wealth’s disciplinary disclosures

There are no disclosures listed in Buckingham’s Form ADV, indicating the firm has a clean disciplinary record.

All SEC-registered firms must provide prompt disclosures of any legal or disciplinary actions in their Form ADV that would help current and prospective clients evaluate the firm. The type of legal and disciplinary events that must be disclosed include criminal and civil actions, administrative proceedings before a federal regulatory agency and proceedings before a self-regulatory organization.

Buckingham Strategic Wealth’s onboarding process

Investors interested in working with Buckingham Strategic Wealth can visit the firm’s website to view a map of where advisors are located and then contact them directly. Alternatively, potential clients can call the firm at (800) 711-2027 or send an email to [email protected] or [email protected] There is also an online form provided on the firm’s website that you can fill out to request to have an advisor contact you.

Prior to signing on with Buckingham, advisors hold a “Discovery Meeting,” during which they get to understand a prospective client’s values, goals, relationships, interests, assets and types of accounts currently held. If the client decides to move forward with Buckingham, they can expect to receive quarterly reports from the firm that show their portfolio’s positions and performance.

Is Buckingham Strategic Wealth right for you?

Buckingham Strategic Wealth offers holistic advice and could be a solid choice for investors with at least $500,000 in investable assets. The firm’s commitment to avoiding conflicts of interest — and providing disclosures when potential conflicts do arise — should give clients reassurance that their money is being managed in their best interest, though of course it’s always necessary to do your due diligence and ask your advisor questions.

However, Buckingham’s high minimums (except in limited cases), don’t make it a suitable option for those who are just starting out and working on accumulating their wealth. Additionally, clients who want the flexibility to choose their own brokerage or don’t want to work with one of the three options provided by Buckingham may want to look elsewhere.

The “Find a Financial Advisor” links contained in this article will direct you to webpages devoted to MagnifyMoney Advisor (“MMA”). After completing a brief questionnaire, you will be matched with certain financial advisers who participate in MMA’s referral program, which may or may not include the investment advisers discussed.