Reaping the Benefits of an Independent Partner With Chris Reaney

Chris Reaney is the Managing Director of High Water Wealth Group at Steward Partners. Steward Partners is an employee-owned, full-service partnership that caters to family, institutional, and multi-generational investors.  

In this podcast, listeners can expect an insightful discussion on Chris Reaney’s career journey from a traditional wirehouse to joining and growing with Steward Partners. The episode highlights the evolution of the financial advisory landscape and the critical importance of support and entrepreneurial freedom for advisors.

Topics discussed:

  • Chris’ early career, highlighting the support for entrepreneurial advisors and contrasting it with less flexible environments at other firms.
  • His decision to leave a traditional wirehouse and join Steward Partners, motivated by dissatisfaction with the corporate culture and a lack of support at his previous firm.
  • Reaney explains the initial challenges and rapid growth of Steward Partners, emphasizing the freedom to run his business and the comprehensive support the firm provides.
  • The importance of personal touch in client relationships, noting that despite advancements in technology and AI, clients value the human element in financial advising.
  • The evolution of Steward Partners from a small, ambitious firm to a large organization, noting the continuous enhancements in support and resources available to advisors.
  • Reaney outlines his future plans, including succession strategy and a long-term commitment to the firm, while also balancing personal interests and values.

Resources: Steward Partners

Related: What Does Freedom Mean to You? With Scott Danner


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Douglas Heikkinen  00:04

This is Advisorpedia's Power Your Advice podcast and I'm Doug Heikkinen. We're joined by Chris Sweeney, Managing Director, High Water Wealth Group at Steward Partners, which is an employee-owned, full service partnership that caters to family, institutional, and multi generational investors. Welcome, Chris.


Chris Reaney  00:42

Thank you.


Douglas Heikkinen  00:44

You were the second advisor to join Steward Partners 10 years ago.


Chris Reaney  00:48



Douglas Heikkinen  00:49

Yeah, let's but let's look back before Steward Partners, you spent 20 years at a wire house. What was building your business like back then?


Chris Reaney  00:58

Wow, that was a whole different generation. Cold calling. group events, seminars, you know, just grinding. But it was it was fun too, I enjoyed it. Smith Barney was the bulk of it. And it was a great company to be at. Yeah, that was a good thing, positive thing that changed when the company was bought by another firm that I was not too happy with.


Douglas Heikkinen  01:27

But it helped you gain a certain skill set?


Chris Reaney  01:32

Well, yeah, I mean, I, I came into the industry. I think with with the skill set, and with the with the determination and the drive that you have to have a home. And I went to Smith Barney specifically when I had several offers on the table that because of the training program, which was recommended to me and and also because Smith Barney was considered very entrepreneurial. So a lot of the support was there. And they basically said to us, we don't care what you focus on, as far as your specialty or your business, we'll support you, but you just have to be good at it and work hard. As opposed to some of the other large warehouses that I I felt really pushed down your throat, you know, how they wanted you to be or what products to sell or whatever. So I think the skill set at Smith Barney allowed me to - or allowed me to use my various talents and skills and develop the business the way I wanted to if that answers the question.


Douglas Heikkinen  02:41

It does it does. So think back and talk about what went into the thought process to make the move to outside that world. What were some of the factors you considered and wasn't making a leap like that kind of bold?


Chris Reaney  02:55

It's funny that you ask. When I come to these symposiums now, now I've been here, over 10 years stored and being the second person hired and now we have hundreds. I'm constantly getting hit by the same question. And it's always, how did you have the guts to make this jump? You know, it's easy for for me, they say because, you know, this company has been around six years, or eight years or 10 years. And we see that you're a real company now. And you know, you're not going away, et cetera, et cetera. But how did you do it? When there was no guy-


Douglas Heikkinen  03:32

I would say 35 billion is not going away.


Chris Reaney  03:34

Exactly. Well, when I started, I think we had a few, you know, maybe 100 million. Before I brought my assets over. There's one guy ahead of me. So now that's the question I get from everybody. And it's really not hard for me to answer and they just can't believe it. Because they're so cautious about making the move and they're really looking at the numbers and all that. I was so unhappy because it was no it was no longer Smith Barney. When I made my move, there was a company that was at a whole different culture, culture I'd never experienced very negative and I was getting zero support. In fact, I was losing support. So I was at the point, and I think for Jim gold, this was a perfect time and he and I had been friends for years he had been my manager I going back to Smith Barney days, he kind of caught me at the right time for him in a bad time for me. I was I was losing support, I knew exactly what I needed to do to grow my business. Very, very importantly have my own dedicated assistant and, and administrator and I was constantly losing that support. That big company that I was at and and the company itself was also cutting support everywhere you looked at, you know, throughout the whole company and just you know, the various places and various departments in New York and everything else. So for me it was easy, really I had nothing to lose. I knew Jim Gold, I loved his idea, I thought it would work. In the way he put it and, and I looked at it was, it was, let's take all the good things we had at Smith Barney. And bring in some new ideas like freedom to, you know, run your business the way you want. And let's, let's give you support. And instead of having to leave that world of wirehouses, and all and going out and hanging my own shingle, and then having to run my own, you know, office and buy my own paperclips and hire and fire people and all that, let's create an environment like Smith Barney, where you work hard, you do your entrepreneurial thing you have will give you your own assistant, you can build your own team will support you. And, by the way, we'll provide legal and, and administrative support and compliance and all those things that we used to get, you know, with with a big firm, so it was a no brainer for me. That's how I looked at it. And still people can't believe that I they still can't believe that I did that. Because they say Well, that's - you still had to, you know, took a huge leap of faith, but but I was in the right place to make that change.


Chris Reaney  03:43

So, Jim was number one, you're number two. How hard was it get to get 3, 4, 5 and 6?


Chris Reaney  06:10

I don't think was that hard? Jim was the founder, Ted Schwab was number one down in DC, I was number two. And then Rick Pinyon the week after me and then there were three of us for a little while, and then all sudden 4, 5, 6 came as a very quickly, most of whom are in my office or in Andover or, or else in DC. And then I'd say that next 20 came in pretty quickly. It was obvious what was happening. We were the company was executing correctly. And I was happy. You know, any of the other early adopters or early joiners, if you will hires were happy. And our former clients were all coming with us. It was not that hard really, to do that. And here's the biggest thing that I think we were able to put on display for recruits was, you know, my case, for example, I left that firm, I'm mentioning their name, they were horrible. It was the culture like I had never experienced in my life was the first time I'd ever lived through a bad corporate culture. I'd always heard about bad corporate cultures. And then we were tying it as you know, we were affiliated with Raymond James, out of Florida, and I hadn't really never thought much about Raymond James. When I went down and met them, and, you know, did my due diligence trip. I was blown away. It's it was the first even Smith Barney, I thought I've had a great cultural this, this company just put away this was like, the epitome of a great culture at a company so. So once I had that under, you know, that experience that and I could talk about it with recruits, and Jim could talk about it with the recruits. I think it was pretty easy, because in those days, and you're talking to right after the financial crisis, all the big wire houses were were not fun places to be. And some of the cultures were pretty, pretty bad. And then lo and behold, Jim shows up with this great idea and some people to use as examples like me, and ended affiliation with Raymond James, which was a place with a great culture, and we're off to the races.


Douglas Heikkinen  08:39

How has it helped your business as an advisor grow?


Chris Reaney  08:43

Great question. And I think oftentimes, I answer I use I have an answer for that. That is just simple numbers. Aside from the cultural change that I mentioned a minute ago, and and all that, I was crying out for support at my last firm. Pretty simple, I thought was pretty simple as to what I needed. I needed my assistant, at least 50% of her time if not 100. I eventually knew i needed to build a team and I needed some efficiencies of scale and some some support. When I left, and came over here to Steward, I think I did some quick numbers. I think I had 140 million in assets. I left-  no 120 million. There were 40 million I didn't even ask to come with me. I didn't send any Acats or anything. So I basically took you know, two thirds of the of the book I asked to come with me. And gross wise I think I did like you know 880 And I think I probably left 200 there and only asked like, call it 700, 660/700 call it, to come with me. And 100% of them came, which surprised me. Felt good. So I literally left and started at Steward with, with what would have been if I had no growth at all about 7, you know, 760 and gross. So, my assets now 10 years later, or 250 plus million. Gross is more than doubled. Probably be getting to a triple pretty soon. And you know, that happened because of the things that I knew I needed. I got support, 100% dedicated assistant, she came with me. And we have now built out a team. Which I've hired a young junior partner, who's an FA and studied for a CFP, I've hired another administrator. So there's four of us. And then if you look at what, what else is happening, I'm merging with another advisor who's older, he's retiring. So, you know, put that book together, it's five of us, it'll eventually be four until I hire again, and we will be at close to 400 million in assets. So those things didn't happen when I - where I was, they happened since I came here. And I don't think they would have happened there the way they did with here at Steward Partners.


Douglas Heikkinen  11:30

How have How has Steward Partners evolved since the beginning to now?


Chris Reaney  11:35

There have been a lot of really great surprises. You know, we had a - Jim had a business plan in the beginning. I mean, simplistically, I think it was we would like to have, we're looking at the northeast corner, we think we can get 100 advisors, you know, averaging 100 or more million in assets, you know, at 1%, you know, do the math, well, I think was a billion dollars in revenue. You know, these were the goals in the beginning. Well, with, we very quickly had 25/30 advisors, we blew through the revenue through the assets just crushed it. So the whole 100 million, you know, just went out the window. And it seemed like we were almost like, you know, I think it's Moore's law with the power of semiconductors. Like every, every, whatever the number is, every five years, the power doubles or something, we just kept resetting the bar higher, or, you know, Jim and I did, but it was enormously successful, we grew like wildfire. And suddenly we were looking at at things to offer for the advisor that we didn't dream of in the beginning. Then it goes everything from here, you're seeing it today, with our breakout sessions here at the symposium with marketing support. In tech support, all of course, you know, the administrative and legal and all that that you get, and just finding ways to help us grow our business.


Douglas Heikkinen  13:11

It's gotten so big. Does it still feel somewhat the same as when you joined?


Chris Reaney  13:17

I'd say no, it doesn't. It it feels we're all close. Being second here, I know all the original people. I hug and say hi and know know the family members and spouse names of all the original management and many of them have come over the last several years. I think that's a little bit of an advantage I have being and one of the first few people hire. But there is always a big effort by by management to do these symposiums. And sometimes we do more regional ones, get to know us and let us get to know them. So I still have that personal connection with everybody. But it's a bigger firm.


Douglas Heikkinen  14:02

Yeah. Let's talk about the end investor, how has the end investor changed over your years of working with them?


Chris Reaney  14:09

My clients?


Douglas Heikkinen  14:11

Your clients, yeah.


Chris Reaney  14:15

In many ways, they haven't. I think we're all human beings. I think the reason we have jobs as advisors and I think the reason we will always have jobs and even with the advent of AI is that personal touch that value that we bring, I think AI will replace a lot of the tools we use and enhance and make us better at the basic things like investing, you know, for running portfolios and that type of thing. I don't think you'll ever be able to look at an AI robot in the eye and you know, have a conversation about you know, how do I help my mother go into a nursing home or how do I help, you know, manage the three children I have and two of them to go into college and order them have some issues and you know, there's this personal connection. And that's what we bring. People haven't really changed. They're more sophisticated as far as the tools they are used to now and what they expect from us from that end.


Douglas Heikkinen  15:13

Yeah, they'll have access to everything that, so they can ask better questions, maybe or stuff like that.


Chris Reaney  15:19

Yep I've always had clients who are very well educated, technically, tech people, which is funny. I'm not a tech guy, but a lot of technology companies. So I started out in Seattle, so I was near Microsoft. And from there it kind of led I think. So I generally have clients that ask tough questions. They're very intelligent, but they're, they're busy. And they, they appreciate the value that we bring.


Douglas Heikkinen  15:45

You and I have been in the industry for a while. Are you thinking about succession? Or is this something you want to - your runway is pretty long, still.


Chris Reaney  15:53

Runways long. But but now that you asked, I am a little bit senior nowadays, I can't believe this. I just turned 60. So I'm gonna say two things. First of all, I made my move to Steward, this is my around 30. I changed careers. I was an engineer, believe it or not. And then I went to Smith, Barney in the financial services I was there 20 years, mostly great, as I said till the end. And I was just shy of 50. I think it was 49 when Jim approached me about this whole steward idea. So I gave you some of the reasons earlier than I made for changing.


Chris Reaney  16:37

So felt like at 50, I had one more shot at burning, building something that that would create equity. You know, aside from the equities I got from the shares, which was interesting, and I thought, Oh, great, you know, here I am the number. Second person hired the firm, there was really no firm to speak of the shares were just this like icing on the cake someday, maybe I felt like well, I can build my book. And then I have something to sell, I have an equity and you know, this firm wasn't gonna go after that equity, they would agree to help me sell it or whatever. So I think that was a really important move for me. And I had a lot of energy left in the tank, you know, from 50 to 60. So that's how it played out. Lo and behold, the stock has become worth something that's great. But at 60, I think you look at do I lay my retirement now? Or do I want to stay around for a while. And I've been working with a coach for several years now. I highly recommend it. That was another thing to help me grow my business. I am absolutely a on the side of I want to work till I'm 70 or 72. So we are I'm in the process of of acquiring this other book from a gentleman who is over 70 and retiring. I'm building a team up, hiring young folks, and I have five years I think of being highly involved and working hard and all that build up this next part of the business. And then five to six, seven years where I transition to the younger people and then ultimately retire. So bit of a long runway left.


Douglas Heikkinen  18:17

That's great. That's great. Last one, what do you do when you're taking time for yourself?


Chris Reaney  18:26

I play golf. My wife and I travel, we're heading to Italy on Saturday this week, which is going to be great.


Douglas Heikkinen  18:34

Italy is fantastic.


Chris Reaney  18:35

I can't wait. I've never been to Italy. So first time. So I keep hearing loads of great stories. We have three boys so we spend time with them. All three of them, oddly enough, since we live in New Hampshire, are living in the Mountain States right now - one in Colorado and two in Montana. So we ski quite a bit and I go out and and ski with them. And I'm a runner, so I do that. Keep active.


Douglas Heikkinen  19:01

That's amazing. Chris it's been great spending time with you. Thanks so much for it's been wonderful.


Chris Reaney  19:08

Thank you.


Douglas Heikkinen  19:10

To learn more about Steward Partners, please visit Steward Please follow us for timely updates on X, LinkedIn and Facebook all Advisorpedia. For everyone at Advisorpedia, our producer Julia Smollen, our engineer Tory Miller and the Power Your Advice podcast team. This is Doug Heikkinen.