West Michigan’s attraction: Here’s where the money is


St. Louis-based brokerage firm Benjamin F. Edwards & Co., which has an office in Midland, is adding a second Michigan location in Greater Grand Rapids, with a pair of experienced certified financial planners anchoring the new office under the name Brandstadt & Lambrix Wealth Advisors.

Todd H. Brandstadt and Deborah J. Lambrix, both CFPs and both formerly with Raymond James in Grand Rapids, and their support staff opened the new office April 21 at 4940 Cascade Road SE.

Benjamin F. Edwards & Co. was founded in 2008 by Tad Edwards, whose father, Benjamin F. Edwards III, was former chairman and CEO of A.G. Edwards. The new company now has 43 offices nationally.

Brandstadt is branch manager and managing director/investments. He had been with Raymond James since 2008, and began his financial services career in 1993 at the Chicago Board of Trade. He then moved to the brokerage side of the business in 1995 and earned his CFP in 2007.

Lambrix, vice president/investments, is a 30-year financial services industry veteran who earned her CFP in 1991. She teamed with Brandstadt in 2007 and also moved to Raymond James in 2008.

Helping Brandstadt and Lambrix with their client responsibilities are Kari Poppema and Sandy Williams, senior registered financial associate and registered financial associate, respectively. Poppema earned her Registered Paraplanner designation from the College for Financial Planning in 2000 and started working with the team in 2010.

Williams has worked with Brandstadt and Lambrix individually and as a member of the team for 10 years. Previously, she worked in banking for five years after earning her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Saginaw Valley State University.

All transferred to Benjamin Edwards & Co. in April from the Raymond James organization.

Brandstadt is a Detroit area native who had been working in Chicago for about 10 years when he came to Grand Rapids in 2003 to manage an A.G. Edwards office.

“Like anyone in Grand Rapids, we’ve seen phenomenal growth in the city,” said Brandstadt.

He said the Edwards company has an “entrepreneurial spirit” and a client-centric approach, and describes it as a “great fit” for the group.

“This is a quality team of investment professionals, who represent well over 50 years of financial services experience,” said Martin Altenberger, senior vice president and Central Region manager at Benjamin F. Edwards & Co. “They share our client-first approach and are also energized by our business model, which not only offers a robust assortment of investment products and services, but also the freedom and flexibility to make recommendations and serve their clients as they see fit. We’re excited to have the Brandstadt & Lambrix Wealth Advisors team on board.”

Finance professor Gregg Dimkoff at GVSU’s Seidman College of Business said he was not familiar with Benjamin F. Edwards & Co. but said he would guess it is establishing a presence here for the same reason Willy Sutton famously gave when asked why he robbed banks: “Because that’s where the money is.”

Dimkoff, who is director of GVSU’s CFP program and is a registered certified financial planner, said the market for the wealth advisors profession is “getting better across the country because of the tens of millions of baby boomers who are either retired or about to retire, and they need advice. Most of them need some sort of advice.”

Dimkoff said CFP is “the epitome of professional designations, called the Mighty CFP,” and it is “one of the tougher professional designations to get so it means something.”

“We train them to pass the (CFP) exam,” said Dimkoff, referring to GVSU students at the Seidman school.

He said there are about 60,000 CFPs in the U.S., and if there are 100 million retirees or people approaching retirement, that would mean there are about 16,000 of them for every CFP.

Even people who are ready for retirement or already retired have financial questions, he said, relating to their investments, taxes, estate planning, insurance and more.

“A CFP should be able to see the whole picture,” said Dimkoff.

He touched on insurance as one example. A retired woman with a significant amount of jewelry that would be part of her estate would probably want to make sure it was safely insured, but Dimkoff points out that many people do not know that homeowners’ standard insurance policies only cover $1,500 worth of jewelry.

And if the woman’s husband has a firearms collection, he would be interested in knowing that homeowners insurance only covers $2,000 worth of firearms. And there is also a limit on how much value in furs would be covered, added Dimkoff.

“I would tell them what to do to fix that,” he said, as a CFP.

He said those limits on specific types of goods are based on a standard homeowners policy “that every insurance company uses. It’s the same for everyone everywhere — except Texas,” he said.

“Age is irrelevant as to whether a person needs financial advice,” said Dimkoff.

He is especially concerned about the ability and inclination of college students today to begin to save money for retirement because far fewer jobs today offer pensions as an employment benefit. New employees have to be educated and motivated to take advantage of valuable benefits offered to them, such as a 401(k), which may offer a valuable employer match for some of the money the employee chooses to set aside for retirement.

For older individuals, he said the improving economy and surging stock market is making people wealthier, and that leads to a concern that they are still following the right strategies as far as retirement goes.

PNC Financial Services Group Inc., based in Pittsburgh and operating regional banks in 19 Eastern states, released results in late April of its semi-annual Perspectives of Retirement survey. PNC said it indicates that more than half (52 percent) of retirees it contacted have withdrawn funds from their retirement accounts without a strategy in place, and slightly more (53 percent) are concerned about running out of money. Of those taking money out of their retirement investments, 59 percent say the money is needed to cover expenses.

PNC also said Americans should begin planning for retirement sooner than they are now doing.

Dimkoff noted that “people are living longer, so they need to be concerned about that.” What he means is that some people will live longer than they anticipated and perhaps deplete their retirement funds.

Of course, young people also need financial planning help regarding their debts, the type of mortgage they should have, funding their children’s college education and their retirement.

As for CFPs who may be looking at Michigan as a place to work, Dimkoff joked that “you don’t go to Flint, you don’t go to Saginaw.” However, Grand Rapids is “a good area with a lot of wealth, so I’m sure (Benjamin F. Edwards & Co.) noticed it.” Two more CFPs added to the region “won’t make a dent in anything. There’s enough business for everybody,” he said.

“The problem is all the yokels out there giving financial advice, and they’re not qualified,” said Dimkoff.

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