Planning for a stable financial future is imperative to quality of life.
Consumer costs continuously rise, and economic uncertainties can put a burden on how we live.
It's never too early to start planning for retirement. Fortunately, throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley, there are many financial consultants and investment advisers to help you get started.
Here to answer this week's “Behind the List” questions is Kent Newhart, president of ATA Financial Group LLC in Whitehall Township.
Lehigh Valley Business: How long has ATA Financial Group LLC been operating in the region and what are its primary services?
Kent Newhart: Our core business was started as Accounting & Tax Associates in October 1983, a local tax and accounting business. My prior eight years of experience were with two regional CPA [Certified Public Accounting] firms and as controller of a mid-sized company. To meet client needs, we continued to expand into consulting, wealth management and insurance.
ATA Financial Group was formed in 2012 to serve as a parent company. We have grown to nine employees with $850,000 in annual revenues and serve over 500 clients.
Today, our services encompass wealth management, financial and retirement planning, fee-only asset management, tax preparation of all types for individuals and business, IRS [International Revenue Service] representation, accounting and bookkeeping services, QuickBooks training, insurance and risk management, estate, Medicare/Medicaid planning, asset protection and business consulting.
LVB: What have been some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that ATA Financial Group LLC has encountered throughout its years in business?
Newhart: Over 33 years, the biggest challenge has not changed: finding great employees. We have an excellent staff that is technically sound, eager to grow and care about what we do. Although not an easy task, it is well worth the effort to find and develop great employees.
The managing of exponential growth of knowledge, technology and communication is a significant challenge. I never expected to Skype with a client overseas 33 years ago. We are constantly in training, reading and upgrading, if you slow down, the train will run over you.
Because we have faced these challenges, the opportunities have been excellent. Every aspect of what we do has been about planning ahead. Whether it is tax projections, business improvement, financial growth, future protection of families and companies or targeted returns, clients realize that looking backward and after-the-fact information serve little purpose in their success.
LVB: How does ATA Financial Group LLC directly stimulate the local economy? Does it work solely in the Greater Lehigh Valley or does it expand into other markets?
Newhart: I believe that the way to a strong U.S. economy starts with jobs. Although our clients are throughout North America, our staff is from the Lehigh Valley, and our core business is in the Lehigh Valley. We try to assist our clients in growing their business, knowing that it will likely increase employment.
I am a member of the Whitehall Industrial Authority board, whose primary purpose is to lend money to business but must create new jobs as part of the eligibility.
On the wealth management side, we feel that as we continue to grow the wealth of our clients, they will feel more secure and comfortable. We see that this often increases their spending patterns and charitable activities for the benefit of many.
LVB: What credentials and licenses have to be obtained to become an investment adviser representative, Certified Financial Planner or asset manager?
Newhart: Credentials and licensing have become hot news for the last 18 months. What license truly represents the best interest of the client, only a fiduciary license. In the code of ethics within accounting, we are required to not only be independent but appear independent.
Fifteen years ago, before I started managing assets, I could not reconcile charging a commission and maintaining my independence. Our Series 65 license precludes us from receiving a commission, and we are a fee-based only firm properly serving in a fiduciary capacity.
We are Registered Investment Advisers with the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Our staff analyst is working toward certification as a CFA [Certified Financial Analyst].
We have life and health and accident insurance licenses, for life, disability, health and long-term care insurance. We are not captive agents and represent approximately 20 companies. This allows us to receive multiple quotes when preparing our planning and maintain our independence.
We have a licensed staff enrolled agent able to practice before the IRS.
LVB: What does the future look like for ATA Financial Group LLC? Does it have plans for growth?
Newhart: The future is always exciting, even without a crystal ball. We are in the process of putting an addition on our office in Whitehall to make room for more employees as our business grows.
As more people understand the importance in planning ahead, they are interested in a firm with our experience and style of working. Potential clients want someone who is independent, uses a holistic approach to their financial well-being and that we meet them face to face.
With the complexity of our financial markets and tax laws, our wealth management grew 27 percent in 2016 and is the fastest-growing aspect of our company.
Because of new laws regarding fiduciary responsibility and regulations, there will be a drastic reduction in companies providing financial services. MetLife was sold a few months ago, and some large brokerage houses are considering $750,000 account minimums.
Advisers not properly licensed will have to get licensed or get out of the business. Beginning in April, only fiduciary licensees will be able to manage tax-qualified accounts, i.e. 401k, 403b and IRA [individual retirement account]. We are fiduciaries; we have no account-size minimums and everyone receives a personalized plan.
Our staff will increase by at least two in 2017.
Our firm is about exceeding expectations, and we expect great things for our clients and staff in 2017.