A Culture of Trust

A culture of trust is built from the top, and trust is central to the ownership structure at Winona Lake-based SYM Financial Advisors.
6/5/2017
Lauren Caggiano
Jeffrey Crane

Now in its third generation of employee-owners, SYM’s unique leadership model enriches the workplace dynamic as well as the client experience. SYM Vice President and co-owner Thomas Ackmann provides some context about this point of difference. “The first and second generation of owners had the foresight to review the industry landscape,” Ackmann says. “They didn’t want the firm to be a closely held family business. Instead, they wanted to make it employee owned, so that people would be more encouraged to chart their own course.”

And that’s exactly what happened. In 2006, the firm transferred ownership to a group of five. Fast-forward to today and SYM’s third generation includes ten owners, all of whom actively work within the company. 

Nearly 50 years after its founding, SYM Financial Advisors manages more than $2 billion in client assets, maintains five office locations and does business in 39 states. Over the years, its team has grown to include 45 professionals, most with advanced degrees and industry designations. SYM’s services include full-service wealth management, portfolio management and retirement plan management for business owners, corporate executives, health care professionals and professionals and retirees in other fields. 

One of the driving forces for SYM’s ownership team is maintaining the core values on which the firm was founded and high among those values is integrity, evidenced by SYM’s Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) status. Like most organizations, SYM’s structure has evolved over the years. Originally a financial advisory and insurance firm, the company transitioned in the 1990s to serve clients as an independent, fee-based Registered Investment Advisory firm. Not surprisingly, this corporate structure change was motivated by the owners’ desire to build personal and professional integrity into their business model. 

Much more than an industry acronym, RIAs do not receive commissions of any kind. In fact, as fiduciaries, they are required by law to always act in the best interest of clients. In contrast, commission-based financial providers may receive compensation from product sales such as insurance and investment products, which could influence their recommendations to clients.

Beyond the legal definition, Ackmann explains fiduciary in simple terms. “We put your interests first, always. We receive no commissions from any investment, insurance vehicle or other financial product we recommend to you. Our only source of compensation is the fee you pay us, which ensures that you get objective advice and our very best efforts in your finances.”

This unbiased approach is not necessarily the norm in the finance world—a distinction which Ackmann says sets his firm apart.

“One of our proudest metrics is client satisfaction,” says Ackmann, “and in our 2016 survey, SYM’s overall client satisfaction ranked at 98%. We like to think this is not mere coincidence, but rather the result of a focused, intentional approach.” Ackmann says 57% of SYM’s clients completed the survey, a dramatic upward swing from the industry benchmark of 40%, with 88% of respondents self-identifying (benchmark 70%). 

“We don’t do it simply to talk about service and integrity,” he says. “We do it because we believe it’s the right thing to do. When talking to an advisor, people need to know you’re looking out for them. We can offer that peace of mind.”

To that end, Ackmann says that most financial advisors spend a great deal of time talking with clients about their financial situation and goals. SYM takes it a step further by anticipating clients’ needs. 

“We’re always looking to the future,” agrees Seth Whicker, vice president and fellow co-owner. “We’re ahead of the curve in that we’re aware of potential future concerns often before the client even realizes they need us.”

For example, advisors might proactively research the potential impact of legislation and present a plan to maximize client benefits or minimize penalties, often before the client realizes the legislation may pose an issue. According to Whicker, SYM’s clients’ futures, as well as the future of SYM Financial Advisors itself, depend on today’s decisions. 

“Our goal is to create a structure where we hire great employees who may become the next generation of owners,” he says. “We hire people who look forward, and do it because they care about the client outcome. More than that, who care about our clients personally.”

Whicker says the company is selective about who it brings on board for many reasons, one of which is preservation of the culture and SYM brand. “We look for individuals who are driven to make a positive impact. We can teach and train to some extent, but we can’t create that innate desire to make a difference in clients’ lives. It really does come down to that next level of care.” 

SYM Financial Advisors

Address: 7030 Pointe Inverness Way #100 Fort Wayne, Indiana 46804

Phone: (800) 888-7968

Website: SYM.com

Email: info@SYM.com

Years in Business: 49

Number of Employees: 45

Products & Services: Locations in Fort Wayne, Indiana; Winona Lake, Indiana; South Bend, Indiana; Carmel, Indiana; Midland, Michigan

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