Providence Busines News | LEVATUS Leads Change in a Traditional Industry
Susan Dahl is CEO of Levatus Wealth Services, a wealth-management startup. The firm is based in Boston, but Dahl, who spends half her year living in Rhode Island, is growing a customer base in the Ocean State. She talks with Providence Business News about her company, her approach to wealth management and about the challenges facing the industry.
PBN: What is Levatus Wealth Services and what’s its connection to Rhode Island?
DAHL: I grew up enjoying time with my family on the waters of the Narragansett Bay. I now spend a good part of my year living in Rhode Island and working with clients who reside here as well. As both a research and sea-life enthusiast, one of my favorite projects was participating in an oyster restoration program on the Kickemuit River with Roger Williams University.
There is a down-home sensibility and pioneering spirit in Rhode Island that feels like home for the Levatus approach to wealth services. It is an approach that bucks the trend of the intense complexity that exists within the financial-services industry. Our approach thinks of wealth from a big-picture perspective and, because of this perspective, actively integrates the math of successful investing with the science on what best enables human happiness.
PBN: When and why did you decide to start the firm?
DAHL: We started the firm because we believe the standard approach to wealth services is unnecessarily complicated in some areas and completely inadequate in others. This is largely because it tries to solve for an incomplete question – “How do we construct a portfolio that smooths the ride?” Many parts of this approach create actual roadblocks to happiness. The founding team has spent decades in financial services and in recent years decided it was our obligation to raise the bar and change the traditional operating model.
PBN: Can you tell our readers a little bit about your approach to wealth management?
DAHL: Our philosophy on wealth services is completely straightforward. Simplicity and purpose can improve outcomes, both financial and emotional, and a sense of control empowers clients. This is the foundation of all we do. So, what does this look like? Some simple illustrations: We know complexity raises human anxiety levels, the Levatus process gives that weight in deciding how best to go about helping people. Life is not just about end goals, it is about enjoying every day, we factor that into decision-making. A sense of purpose has tangible value, we include that value when assessing investment opportunities. Client expertise in a concentrated growth asset can have more value and importance than complex diversification strategies, we integrate that into our thinking.
PBN: How is your philosophy and firm different from other wealth-management companies out there?
DAHL: The major difference is that we begin by finding answers to a different question. Rather than, “How do we solve for a smoother ride?” We ask, “How do we solve for a better ride?” The answer, built on decades of experience and research, begins with a basic foundation of simplicity and purpose. Some of the tangible ways this is expressed as we begin:
- Simple flat fee.
- Initial focus on cost reduction and quality assessment.
- “Review in place” – during the initial onboarding of a new client, we have created a review in place phase where clients keep their custodian while we review the quality, cost, risk and allocation of the existing portfolio.
Another service we offer in the early stage of the relationship is a science-based approach to help clients understand their true risk tolerance – it’s not just age. These are just a few concrete examples of how we structure Levatus processes to address a much more comprehensive and meaningful set of objectives.
PBN: What is the greatest challenge facing your industry today and what are you doing to face it?
DAHL: The greatest challenge facing the financial-services industry is trust. The reason it faces this challenge is at least partially due to unnecessarily complicated solutions. The effects of a profit model that is largely driven by asset gathering and a short-term focus also contribute.
Once you prioritize client happiness, the path is clear. Straightforward solutions are optimal from both a financial and emotional perspective, a flat fee creates clarity and gives clients control and processes [such as] the review in place reduce client anxiety and allow time for trust to be built and earned.
Eli Sherman is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Sherman@PBN.com, or follow him on Twitter @Eli_Sherman.