Kinderhook, N.Y. — “It’s not just about the money.”
It’s not the first mantra you’d expect to come from a financial advisor, but it’s the philosophy at the core of Siena Private Wealth’s human-centric approach to wealth management.
“In the financial world, there’s so much focus on an advisor’s total assets under management. Size is often conflated with success,” CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(TM) Marisa Rothstein said in a recent interview from her Kinderhook, N.Y. office. “That’s just not my priority, which is why I launched an independent practice — so I could have my own metrics for success: Am I serving clients who I am proud to support? Am I surrounded by people who inspire me and who I in turn inspire? Do my clients see me as a partner in their life-long financial journey?”
Rothstein puts people, not metrics, at the center of her work. Numbers are important, of course, but so is addressing the often complicated feelings that can arise when the conversation turns to financial planning.
“The financial world’s traditional model is intentionally sterile and inaccessible. It seems aimed to intimidate you, to make you feel inferior and disengaged,” she said. “I’m trying to do the exact opposite. After all, money is one of the most emotional things in many people’s lives. You should feel comfortable being honest, emotional, and yourself with your financial advisor. How else can I truly understand your goals and figure out how to go about meeting them?”
Many of Rothstein’s clients come to her during major life transitions that have come with financial consequences. “People often reach out to me who are new to managing their own money,” Rothstein said. “Sometimes they’re happy transitions: a large gift from a relative or new stock options at work. But I also support clients struggling through the financial implications of divorce or widowhood. In addition to the myriad other responsibilities on your plate during these types of transitions, you also suddenly have a whole new financial world to take care of. It can be incredibly overwhelming even for the most financially literate among us.”
Often, Rothstein noted, these clients feel helpless when it comes to controlling their own financial futures. “I find that people who have been generally left out of the family finance discussion won’t even ask questions because they don’t know where to begin. So the first step is to give my clients the vocabulary and confidence to engage in the conversation and to feel comfortable asking questions.” Rothstein strives to educate and empower her clients to confront their financial realities and make confident, wise decisions for the future.
‘What are you doing with your money?’
Thanks to the abstract nature of the stock market, it’s easy to forget that there are real-world companies on the receiving end of every investment, some of whom you’d like to support, and some you’d rather steer clear of. “You think, ‘Oh, I’m buying the XYZ Target-Date Retirement Fund. It’s a Fund, not a company.’ I have found that few actually pause and question: what’s in that retirement fund?” Rothstein said. “The reality is that every dollar you invest in the stock market–whether through a direct investment in a company or through an index Exchange Traded Fund or large target-date retirement mutual fund–is going towards real companies. If you walk into a store and consider different manufacturers before selecting a product–either because of what the product was made from or where it was manufactured – you should also consider what you’re buying with your investment dollars.”
“There are many different ways of approaching socially responsible investing,” Rothstein said. “For me, it starts with identifying my client’s priorities: what do you want your money to support in the world?” She works with clients to identify industries they don’t want to support — firearms are a common no-go — and businesses they do want to put their money behind — companies that prioritize diversity or sustainability, for example — then helps them assemble a portfolio that reflects their values.
Socially responsible investing “is not the same as making a donation to a nonprofit. The end goal is still to grow your portfolio, but to do it in a way that tries to mitigate harms to the globe,” she said.
As an added bonus for the philanthropically-minded, Rothstein donates at least 3% of her profits each year to charitable causes around the world. In 2022, recipients include the American Indian College Fund, the Center for Law and Justice, Jewish World Watch and the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society.
A creative connection
Rothstein doesn’t promote herself as an ‘advisor for artists,’ but creative clients seem to find her anyway. “I’m emitting a vibe, I guess,” she joked. “I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in a creative family.”
Vibes aside, Rothstein believes her particular style of advising is a good fit for the often complex financial needs of someone working in the arts.
“The relationship between art and money has always been rocky, to say the least, and many artists feel uncomfortable and ill-equipped when it comes to managing their own finances.” Rothstein takes pride in providing a safe, judgment-free environment for all clients, especially those who may be insecure about their limited financial knowledge.
“Knowing about investments and financial planning is a full time job — my full time job. There’s no shame in not knowing anything yet. If someone’s calling me, it’s an amazing first step,” she said.
Finally, Rothstein has plenty of experience managing the more challenging aspects of an artists’ finances. “There are a lot of unique planning issues that they deal with,” she said. “In other professions, you receive a paycheck every two weeks. Your taxes are automatically withheld, Social Security funded, retirement savings contributions made. Plus, there is generally a long-term steady career trajectory. In contrast, consider a musician, actor or screenwriter who often works freelance and usually on a project by project basis. The most successful artists still may go long stretches between paying gigs. So there’s a lot more cash flow planning and budgeting to do to prepare for these lulls.”
Many who work in a creative field, especially those outside of a trade union, also miss out on some of the built-in financial services that come with a more traditional job’s benefits. “You still need to save for retirement but you need to do it on your own,” Rothstein said. “If you freelance, you likely don’t have access to a 401(k) or pension; you need to establish your own retirement savings accounts and be self-disciplined in filling them.”
While not a Berkshire native, the region holds a special place in Rothstein’s heart. “My happiest childhood memories take place on the lawn at Tanglewood, hopping among performances at the Williamstown Theater Festival, and making s’mores at sleep-away camp in Great Barrington,” she said. Relocating her family to the area was a homecoming of sorts.
“I’m excited to be able to serve the community and also support the cultural center that was such a defining piece of my childhood,” she said. “The Berkshires have always been my happy place.”
Siena Private Wealth’s Hudson Valley office is located at 5 Chatham St., Kinderhook, N.Y. For more information on Siena Private Wealth financial advising services, visit sienaprivate.com, call 929-297-9965, or email [email protected]