Buckingham Celebrates 20 Years: A Founders’ Story
When they joined forces 20 years ago this month to create Buckingham, Bert Schweizer III and Stuart Zimmerman and their co-founders Paul Forman and Steve Funk analyzed every possible outcome before deciding to turn a new page in their already successful careers. Perhaps it was the CPA in their DNA (Stuart and Bert were both successful accountants when the firm was founded) or the foreshadowing of the fiduciary commitment they’d undertake as comprehensive wealth planners and Registered Investment Advisors, but the decision to expand their service offering and go out on their own wasn’t made on a whim. Rather it was a belief built over time, after years of observing their accounting clients suffer the consequences of investment advice driven by emotion over evidence and the certainty that there was a better way to preserve the wealth these investors had worked so hard to achieve.
Twenty years later, that same prudence is exercised every day on behalf of the more than 2,000 clients that rely on the Buckingham wealth advisory team to help protect the financial futures of their families, their businesses and the institutions they are passionate about. But in the beginning, that was all just an idea in the minds of a group of local businessmen.
In 1994, Stuart was a partner at RubinBrown, a St. Louis-based accounting firm that had grown from 11 people to 200 associates since he joined in 1966. Throughout his tenure, with the benefit of his appointment to serve on the boards of several national professional organizations, he noticed early on what he knew would later become an industry trend. It was that CPAs, at the request of their clients, were looking to provide financial planning services beyond what they contributed as tax professionals. “I’d attend national meetings, and each year there would be more CPAs attending the wealth management sessions, more hands going up regarding interest in becoming investment advisors,” recalls Stuart. “I knew I was witnessing the beginnings of an important industry sea change — but I also knew that it wasn’t one my current firm would rush to embrace. At the time I was taking regular walks in Forest Park with my friend Paul Forman. After I’d shared my feelings with him, he suggested I meet with another CPA he worked with, Bert Schweizer, who he knew echoed my desire to do more for clients,” he says.
Meanwhile, Bert was a partner at Pasternak, Schweizer & Co., P.C. — a successful CPA firm he had built from scratch. “As a trusted advisor in the financial lives of my accounting clients, I noticed time and again how their investment portfolios — chosen by stockbrokers trying to beat the market — were undermining the financial security of my clients,” says Bert.
At the time, Bert was a regular runner, and on Saturdays he’d often share his idea of adding a financial planning component to his CPA practice with confidant (and future business partner) Steve as the two ran along Olive Boulevard. “I had spent 25 years building relationships with my clients that went far beyond their tax returns. I wanted what was best for them. I knew by doing their annual reviews that the investment portion of their financial plan tended to underperform common benchmarks, that the number of transactions was high and that their asset allocation didn’t align with their goals and tolerance for risk. I knew I could do a better job than the people they were paying.”
Eventually, Stuart, Bert, Paul and Steve connected and the business idea was born in the winter of 1994. “The four of us met for the first official time at Café Manhattan, a small restaurant in Clayton,” says Stuart. “Over the next few months, we crafted a carefully vetted 10-point business plan that embraced everything we believed a financial planning firm should be to its clients.”
Once the partners agreed on the fiduciary principles still espoused at Buckingham today, the logistics — at times complicated — took over. Bert sold his half of his CPA practice to RubinBrown. A two-year transition plan was set in to motion to ensure no accounting clients were lost. Licenses were obtained, exams taken and contracts drawn up. The name Buckingham was chosen both for marketing and sentimental purposes. “It sounded regal,” laughs Bert when asked about the origin. “Also, Paul was in real estate, and the very first property he sold was on a street in St. Louis named Buckingham.”
Roles were assigned. “Bert and Steve were better at the technical/investment side. Paul and I were better at marketing and business development. Dividing up responsibilities allowed us each to leverage our strengths,” says Stuart.
By summer of that year, on the fourth floor of an office building on Bemiston Avenue in Clayton (the same that housed RubinBrown), Buckingham was up and running and beginning to amass clients. “We started with our mothers,” says Stuart. “We discussed up front whether we’d reach out to our own families or exclude them. But since our business was built upon doing the absolute best thing for our clients, there would never be a conflict.”
The dream plotted during walks in Forest Park and runs across St. Louis County took root and has grown into a thriving, innovative organization home to more than 150 associates in six cities. It’s grown from empty books of business to a legion of loyal clients entrusting Buckingham with billions of dollars in assets. But although much has changed both at Buckingham and in the financial services industry since those days where business was born in the back of restaurants, one thing has remained unchanged — the commitment that Bert, Stuart and their co-founders made to do right by those that they represented. That commitment is embodied by the talented team that carries the torch today, and the unwavering devotion has helped safeguard the financial futures of thousands of investors and their families across the country.
This week, as we mark our 20th anniversary, we’re kicking off a series of anecdotes from Stuart, Bert and other key figures from Buckingham that will highlight our history.
We look forward to sharing them with you!
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