2 min read March 2022 — With the tremendous growth in Tampa, Senior Managing Director Joel Stevens of Bernstein Private Wealth Management seeks to push the envelope. In a conversation with Invest:, he provided his insight on the importance of ESG, the potential of the Tampa Bay region, and his positive outlook for the firm. He also shared key elements that are driving today’s robust market.
What makes Tampa Bay a great location to reside and work?
In short, it’s the confluence of a number of positive attributes that provide something for everybody. Tampa is experiencing tremendous growth on all fronts, and there is a great energy and vibe. Amazing weather, beach access, a thriving multi-cultural scene, great healthcare, lower taxes, and overall affordability afford a high quality of life and make Tampa one of the absolute best places to live, work and play. All this also makes Tampa one of the hottest markets for relocation in the U.S. While historically we may have thought of Florida as the place to retire, Tampa has a fast-growing younger population adding to the city’s energy. Then, corporations, entrepreneurs and young professionals are flocking to Tampa and driving a vibrant merger and acquisition wave that is not slowing anytime soon. On top of all that, our professional sports teams are quantifiably the best in the country with multiple world championships. For me, Tampa offers big-city amenities but possesses a small-city feel and convenience that is open to outsiders who are willing to get involved and give back to the community.
In that spirit, something I feel makes Tampa among the greatest cities in the country is the fact the community “outpunches its weight” in terms of giving back, and I appreciate how it goes above and beyond in the areas of charity, philanthropy and nonprofit work. Tampa is the home to the greatest chapters of some of the country’s most notable charitable organizations and they know who they are.
What is driving the robust investment market and what are the challenges?
The financial markets entered 2022 much like they entered 2021, with lots of uncertainty, and there are plenty of challenges that various industries will be impacted by and must conquer in the new year. Inflation is the newest uncertainty and perhaps the most significant. The Federal Reserve’s plans to accelerate the pace of interest-rate hikes has some investors worried, and with valuations relatively high today and rising inflation threatening to spark even tighter monetary policy moves, it’s an open question whether US stocks will continue on an upward trajectory. Other issues include COVID, consumer excess savings, and market concentration.
The foundational pillars that drive economic growth and expansion continue to be in place, and we believe the economy and the markets will be able to successfully navigate all of this. U.S. companies are expected to continue posting solid earnings growth and profitability, and earnings growth will matter above all else. Many high-quality businesses still trade at attractive valuations while companies have record amounts of cash available to deploy for share buybacks.
There will, however, be market pullbacks, and we have already seen an increase in volatility. We believe the supply chain challenges will continue to abate throughout the year, while the consumer will be a positive given their pent-up demand and the surplus cash they have on hand
Transactional wealth, driven by mergers and acquisitions and private business owners selling pieces or their entire business, is at an all-time high and contributing to the robust market. Tampa stands out, and we believe this will not slow down. With world-leading scientific research, healthcare institutions, technology companies and a burgeoning market for venture capital financing and start-ups, Tampa is a hotbed of wealth creation and investment.
Why has there been an increased focus on ESG investments?
The pandemic prompted significant changes for our country, for Tampa and its people and businesses. Interconnected environmental, social and governance issues have brought to the forefront the role of purpose-driven investing strategies as an important part of investor allocations going forward. This pandemic period has been more than just a health and economic crisis. There has been social accounting with a growing focus on inequality in addition to an elevated focus on the environment.
These trends have fueled a conceptual change in the purpose of investing. Before the pandemic, traditional investing viewed economic and social issues as largely distinct spheres where companies existed to enrich their owners and shareholders. Now, you can’t fully understand the economics of a business without understanding how a company interacts with customers and society.
ESG is here to stay and investors, and even more so fiduciaries overseeing endowments and foundations, can no longer dismiss companies’ environmental and social decisions. ESG issues were once considered risks to be avoided, and ESG portfolios were about passively excluding industries perceived as particularly problematic, such as tobacco or weapons. Not anymore. The conversation about purpose-driven investing has changed. While challenges remain, we believe investors must incorporate ESG issues into their processes because they are so widespread and affect every company. By doing so, investors will be able to deliver better outcomes for clients, while supporting positive change for companies that deliver tangible benefits to society. This requires more focus, resources, guidance and ultimately differentiated advice that makes a difference.
What is your outlook for the wealth management sector in Tampa Bay?
Growth, growth, growth! Households in the Tampa Bay metro area with at least $3 million in liquid wealth currently represent roughly $278 billion in assets under management. It is estimated that cohort will grow faster than 6% per year over the next 5 years, presenting a robust opportunity. Existing firms will have to grow organically by over 6% per year just to maintain current market share which will be challenging given the influx of competition. The pandemic, which kept many workers home for months, prompted finance firms to reconsider how much space they need in New York, Boston, and other expensive cities. The Tampa Bay metro area has drawn companies with its year-round warm weather, quality of life and lower taxes. This is a real positive and a win for everyone – the wealth management firm, the local clients, and investors as well as the community. As a result of all this, over the next five years we expect to double our headcount, including advisors, investment specialists and wealth strategists, in an effort to support our clients and their other professional advisors.
Then, as the wealth management industry expands locally, it must invest in the local community and give back more than ever. This is something me and our local advisors take very seriously, and we are currently involved as an office and as a firm more than ever before. As a result, we have seen more impact and have been a part of some amazing accomplishments partnering with and working alongside some of Tampa’s most prominent charitable organizations throughout the pandemic. We need to continue to increase our investment in the community, and I look forward to watching Tampa become an even greater city as the wealth management industry grows and gives more.
Finally, as the wealth management industry continues to grow in Tampa Bay and benefit from all the area has to offer, it is important for all firms to focus on diversity and inclusion and foster an environment where diverse talent thrives. This is an area we are particularly proud of as a firm as the diversity of our Board of Directors and operating committee provides tone from the top, helping us innovate and break through barriers to inclusivity at the local level here in Tampa. In the end, having diverse and inclusive teams simply makes us better. They help us generate better ideas, reach more balanced decisions, better engage the Tampa Bay community and help our clients achieve better outcomes.
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