Tim Chase is the CEO of WMS Partners. Based in Towson, Maryland, WMS Partners is a multi-family office, wealth management, and investment advisory firm focused on helping individuals and their families meet their long-term financial goals, secure their wealth, and engage in philanthropic giving. The firm has managed over $2 billion in assets and has been named to Barron’s list of the Top 100 Independent Financial Advisors multiple times. Aside from leading WMS, Tim is serves as Chairman of the Penn-Mar Foundation, Inc., and is active on the Board of Directors for Penn-Mar Human Services. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees for Carroll Hospital Center Foundation, the Maryland Historical Society, the Calvert School Investment Committee, the Schwab Institutional Advisory Board and the Questmark Partners Advisory Board.
Q. How did WMS Partners begin?
TIM CHASE: We started the firm back in 1992—myself and Martin Eby. It really started over lunch one day. I was at Walpert, Smullian & Blumenthal, which is now McGladrey, and Martin was at RCM&D. We had referred business back and forth to each other and we were both dissatisfied with the status quo of how the financial services worked. We thought there was a better way to do things. We had this simple notion: we really wanted to create a family environment where we could put our clients first, where we could never have a conflict of interest and simply be there and be the CFO for our clients and take care of no one but our clients. It started earlier in that I had a couple of clients who followed me and Martin had a couple of clients that followed him.
Early on in the business you have a few key moments. There are inflection points in a lot of businesses, and I remember one key inflection point for us was we had a client and we were helping them redesign a whole compensation system. This client really needed a large insurance policy. We were committed to a family atmosphere. We were only in business for about a year, we were still struggling to make ends meet, like any startup business, and there was a very large commission associated with this.The client understood this and we said to the client, “We’re not going to take this. We’re going to refer this out to someone else who’s going to sell this product.” And the client looked at us and said, “You’re crazy. Why wouldn’t you take this commission?” We just simply said, “That’s not who we are. That’s not what we are about.” That client ended up becoming one of our biggest referral sources and it’s those little inflection points that really define who we are, and we’ve really picked up one client at a time. It’s been a word-of-mouth referral—and we have lots of little stories like that—that’s helped grow the firm slowly and steadily.
Q. What differentiates the firm from other kinds of investment advisory groups?
A. Most firms in the investment business approach investing from their own perspective: “I have this skill set and here’s what I can do and here’s how I’m going to invest your money.” We tend to approach things a little bit differently. We approach things from your standpoint, from the client’s standpoint—that if I had this money, how would I invest this money? In the debate of active versus passive, we’re not religious about either side. To us the question is “What’s the most effective way to make this investment?”
We do an awful lot with nontraditional investments outside of the public markets. We will invest with real estate companies, with private equity companies, with different types of cash flow strategies like distress debt or private loans or things like that. The reason why we do these things is simply because we think if that were our money, how would we invest our own money? We would want to take some of our money out of the public markets and be able to get access to more stable, more predictable returns that can really give us diversification. Most groups in our business, I think, tend to be focused on that smaller subset of skills that they’ve built and that’s what they build their business around. We try to have that focus beyond on the client and in that overall portfolio and how would we build that portfolio if we were in their shoes.