One of the best projects I’ve ever worked on in this industry is the creation and implementation of our Milestone Rewards program. In September 2015 we announced that we would be reducing our fees for clients who’d qualified by remaining loyal to their own financial plans over the course of their first 36 months with us. There are a few other stipulations involved but the big picture is that we wanted to reward clients who were adhering to all of the things we believe are important to long term returns.
We’ve done a pretty good job at keeping our clients invested over the years, thanks to a relentless emphasis on investor education and constructive market commentary on the blogs and elsewhere. But we can’t do this all by ourselves. It doesn’t work if our clients don’t buy in to the research, the philosophy. The content may inculcate them but then they’ve got to fight to stay that way, through the best and worst of what the markets and economy have to offer.
So far, so good.
Since that announcement five years ago, 419 client households have achieved the Milestone Rewards marker, accounting for some 40% of all existing client households. That’s amazing. Partly it’s because we’re very selective about whom we will allow to become a client – they have to get it. Not everyone gets it, and that’s okay. But partly it’s because of the work our client-facing advisors and client service reps do each day to keep everyone on track and focused on the big picture. And partly it’s all of the messaging we work so hard at as a firm. The combination of these things is powerful.
As we speak, an email is going out to the seventeen households who have just qualified for Milestone Rewards for the first time beginning this quarter. It’s a letter from our Chairman Barry Ritholtz reminding them of all they’ve been through in order to get to this point, and how important their own behavioral contribution has been to the results.
Just to give you some sense of who these seventeen families are, only seventeen percent are from the Northeast, despite the fact that we’re headquartered in New York. Six percent are from the Southeast, while fifty-three percent are from the Midwest, and then another twenty-four percent are from the West coast. The average age in this class is 61 with thirty-five percent of them below age 50. Thirty-five percent of these households are between 50 and 70, and thirty percent of them are above 70.
With so many of these client households still having decades of investing and compounding ahead of them, the reduced fees associated with Milestone Rewards will be extremely meaningful – a tangible benefit for remaining steadfast in the face of scary headlines, market volatility and other threats real or perceived.
These clients in particular – the seventeen households who have qualified today – have been with us since the first quarter of 2018. Since then they’ve endured the onset of the pandemic, which led to the fastest 30% bear market and the worst quarterly economic plunge in American history. There was the raid on the Capitol building as well as one of the most brutally contentious election cycles of all time. Before that, an economically disruptive trade war as well as two Presidential impeachment trials, not to mention the inversion of the yield curve, the crashing of oil prices to below zero and the ongoing sickness and death of millions of Americans.
Being able to stay invested throughout all of those opportunities for panic is not easy when the majority of your working years are behind you and the bulk of your nest egg is already at risk. Which is why I am so proud to welcome these families into the Milestone Rewards group.
Lowering our clients’ fees – for the rest of their lives – is our acknowledgement of their proven calm and courage through a variety of market environments and news cycles. We’re not giving anyone anything – they’ve earned it. And something earned is always more meaningful than something gifted.
So congrats to the first Milestone Rewards class of ’21. Staying the course through thick and thin isn’t always going to feel like a walk in the park when you’re in the moment. It will only look easy in hindsight, when enough time has passed.
New wealth management clients joining us this spring will be receiving their Milestone Rewards letters from Barry in 2024. We look forward to congratulating them as well.