Attorney at Law Magazine Jacksonville sat down with William Sterling Newton the founder of Sterling Newton, a financial assistance and advice firm based in Jacksonville, to discuss his company and industry.
AALM: Tell us what first drew you to your industry.
WSN: Very early on in my career, I had a couple acquaintances and even a closer family member taken from us unexpectedly, leaving their own families behind without what most of us would consider the optimal legacy and preparations made. It hit close enough to home to cause me to both evaluate my own legacy circumstances as well as to also figure out ways to help others avoid similar unforced errors and unnecessary fate.
AALM: What compelled you to start your own company?
WSN: Of course, recognition of a desire to be my own boss, control my own destiny and create a boutique firm that would allow me to be more selective about who I choose to work with. But what I also discovered early on was that the bigger advisory firms were often beholden to products and strategies that weren’t always the most favorable matches to the clients I wanted to work with. I required a level of strategic independence that would allow me to truly advocate on behalf of my clients. After all, it was my reputation. My legacy.
AALM: How is your company different from its competitors?
WSN: Ninety-one percent of all institutions that hold themselves out as wealth management firms lead with an investment or insurance product, which they use as an entrée to do a client’s broader planning. We, on the other hand, as a virtual family office, have partnered with some of the best specialists in the country to effectively gather and spearhead the most comprehensive, sought after advice and strategy ideas available to affluent clients anywhere. Predominantly, we are addressing five main areas of our clients’ financial lives: (1) making smart decisions about their money; (2) mitigating taxes; (3) taking care of heirs; (4) protecting assets from being unjustly taken; and (5) magnifying the power of charitable gifts (to the extent they are charitable and legacy is a priority).
And of all of these, the one area that does not get enough attention is proactive tax planning. The results of a survey done with over 45 business owners back in 2019 showed that 95% of them did not get any proactive tax planning advice from their current advisory team. By showing our clients what is working for other affluent clients around the country to reduce their taxes substantially we are also able to help them visualize and reposition those savings into additional wealth for their heirs or charitable causes.
AALM: How would you describe the culture at your company? The team?
WSN: We are a small local team with a large national network of partners specializing in dedicated virtual family office areas of expertise.
AALM: Tell us about one of the most important lessons you learned from a personal or professional mentor.
WSN: Always keep studying and learning. I probably attend five conferences throughout each year…attend many webinars, especially now. But the conferences I had been most dedicated to have continued on virtually, if not in person still. So, our clients continue to enjoy best of class advice and service.
AALM: How has your field evolved since you first entered it? What’s the biggest positive and negative change?
WSN: The virtual family office strategies have become more accessible to our ideal type of clients. This has definitely been a positive development. Where these services had once been reserved for families that had the means to afford their own exclusive family advisor, a handful of firms like mine have been able to tap into those more elite, coveted resources with our own network of partners.
Conversely, many firms have expanded into the investment/advisory field and call themselves wealth management advisors, even though their primary function has always been strictly investments. Consequently, their expertise becomes diluted, and they wind up doing an average job, at best, on both fronts. So we’ve leveraged the best of both worlds and the feedback we get from our clients has been extremely rewarding.
AALM: What do you think is the most pressing concern for attorneys when it comes to your field?
WSN: Attorneys definitely fall into the category of the trusted advisor who often needs time to do the necessary research and continually educate themselves on progressive, more innovative ways to make a difference for their clients. Their time is valuable. We want to be a resource and partner with those professionals who want to offer more holistic planning to their clients.
AALM: What changes do you see on the horizon for your field? How are you and your company preparing to stay ahead of the curve?
WSN: The only thing that brings more complexity to the ever-increasing tinkering to the tax code by our government is the uniqueness of each business owner or family or individual and their own circumstances requiring attention and even greater emphasis on proactive planning. The collaboration with open-minded, progressive, abundance embracing fellow advisory team members has and will continue to keep us ahead of the curve.
AALM: What do you most enjoy about working with lawyers?
WSN: The attributes that stand out most with any trusted advisor or center of influence are shared values: ours and their desire to help their clients, ours and their strong desire to stay educated, and ours and their willingness to think outside the box… all leading toward shared satisfaction of knowing they have created a better environment for their clients.
AALM: What is one of the biggest challenges you face in your industry? How do you overcome it?
WSN: Probably trust and public perception of what the concept of wealth management truly means to clients who recognize that they can’t do what we know how to do on their own…and that there are really only a few companies that actually provide a comprehensive, one stop shop environment for their clients. As an independent registered investment advisory firm, I take it as a source of pride to be in charge of my own compliance, as opposed to many who view it as a burden that must be overcome or allowed for in order to be wholly present and truly available to their clients, regardless of the uniqueness of their circumstances.
AALM: What are your ambitions for your company? Any future plans?
WSN: We want to teach and pass along to a next generation of clients and advisors that comprise our community as a whole what we have learned over the years to prove that there is reliable, sustainable direction that can help everyone navigate all environments
AALM: Why would another center of influence (Attorney, CPA, Advisor) want to consider working/partnering with Sterling Newton?
WSN: Hopefully because of shared values mentioned above. But also because we are not trying to grab credit or dilute or disturb valued client relationships that are working. In fact, we choose to work with professionals who are as comfortable taking the lead as they may be asking for help where needed. We have proven to be as effective when utilized as an incremental resource or second set of eyeballs where needed. After exhausting, processing all available input, there is always one ‘right’ decision for a client to make, a clear path that can either be illuminated, supported, or both by a trusted advisor. That ‘right’ decision is our primary concern. And because it comes from a place of strong belief and conviction, the successful execution is resounding.