Managing a stock portfolio can be one of the most arduous tasks when trying to keep your finances in check. In an economy where inflation is on the rise and the stock exchange is constantly fluctuating, it can be cumbersome to make sure that you're making wise decisions and investing your money in the right markets.
Here to answer this week's “Behind the List” questions and give some insight on the ever-changing market and provide advice to investors is Bill Van Sant, senior vice president and managing director of Univest Investments, a division of Univest Wealth Management at Univest Corp. in Souderton.
Lehigh Valley Business: How long has Univest Wealth Management Division been operating in the region and what are its primary services?
Bill Van Sant: While the beginnings of the wealth management division date back almost 90 years with the formation of our trust department in Souderton, we have been in the Lehigh Valley, offering our full suite of solutions, for almost 10 years. We opened a regional office in Allentown in 2014, and Univest's first retail financial center in the Lehigh Valley opened in December of last year.
Univest Wealth Management is a full-service investment firm with nearly 80 dedicated employees specializing in retirement planning, financial planning, insurance solutions and asset management for individuals and businesses. We take a personal approach to investing, so building and preserving solid partnerships with our clients is a top priority.
LVB: What have been some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that Univest Wealth Management Division has encountered throughout its years in business?
Van Sant: Certainly a challenge that all financial institutions, including Univest, have faced is staying compliant as the regulatory landscape continues to change.
Univest invests significant resources, all at a local level, to ensure that we are compliant with current state and federal laws, safeguarding the personal information provided to us by our clients and effectively monitoring how our advisers and employees conduct themselves with the investing public.
The last several years have provided significant opportunities for full-service, local institutions like Univest to take advantage of market disruption. Considering the amount of consolidation that has taken place in the financial services industry through mergers and acquisitions, Univest has benefited by attracting both displaced clients and quality employees who desire to partner with a local institution.
Univest can offer the same solutions that a national firm can offer and does so through a team of local, competent and dedicated professionals. Furthermore, many clients are looking for a quality, independent organization that can offer solutions in addition to wealth management, such as banking and insurance.
Univest has these capabilities, so we foresee additional opportunities to grow significantly over the next several years.
LVB: What designations or certifications are required to become to an investment broker? How does it differ from that of a certified financial planner?
Van Sant: To become an investment broker, there are a variety of licenses you can obtain, depending on the type of investments you want to be able to offer.
However, the most common licenses are the Series 7 (General Securities License) and the Series 63 (State Securities License). Additionally, you would need your Series 65 or 66 to become an investment adviser representative.
You are required to pass an exam to obtain each license to demonstrate your proficiency with the information covered. Preparing for these exams generally takes several months of self-study.
Additionally, brokers are required to maintain both industry and firm-level continuing education to ensure they are staying abreast of industry trends and topics.
Achieving the Certified Financial Planner designation is a much more involved process and generally takes several years to attain. A candidate must hold or attain a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university, complete course work addressing various financial planning disciplines identified by the CFP Board and pass a CFP certification examination.
Possessing the CFP designation demonstrates that advisers have met rigorous professional standards and have agreed to adhere to the principles of integrity, objectivity, competence, fairness, confidentiality, professionalism and diligence when dealing with clients.
Additionally, those with the CFP designation maintain higher continuing educational requirements and must adhere to a strict ethics standard.
LVB: How does Univest Wealth Management Division directly stimulate the local economy?
Van Sant: Approximately 80 employees within our division, and more than 800 employees at Univest Corp., all work and live within the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys. Whether we are raising families, volunteering or buying items at the local farmers market, our employees are completely engaged within the communities they work and directly impact the local economy.
Additionally, through its Committed To Local giving program, Univest gives back significant dollars to support community partners each year. In 2016, that giving totaled more than $1.6 million.
We truly feel that we cannot be a strong financial institution unless the communities we serve are also strong. As such, the local economy definitely benefits from having a financially sound, community-minded corporation like Univest partnering with its residents.
LVB: What does the future look like for Univest Wealth Management Division? Does it have plans for growth?
Van Sant: We are very excited about the future of Univest Wealth Management. As the financial landscape continues to see big, out-of-state banks acquiring local competitors and forcing clients to deal with impersonal call centers, we feel that Univest is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this disruption by attracting both clients and highly skilled employees who have been affected and want to partner with a solid, community-focused, local institution like Univest.
Univest Wealth Management continues to look for opportunities to grow its footprint and continues to talk to advisers and firms who may be burdened with increased regulation or may not be getting the local support from their out-of-state parent company.