At Chevy Chase Trust each relationship begins with a comprehensive review of the client’s financial situation. This ensures a thorough understanding of the client’s unique goals and priorities, and informs allocation and investment decisions. Our work includes: cash flow analyses, retirement planning, executive compensation planning, insurance needs analysis, concentrated stock diversification strategies, estate planning analyses, and charitable giving plans. Recently, we sat down with Leslie Smith, Senior Advisor, responsible for the financial and estate planning services of the firm.
Q: Tell us about your background.
A: I am originally from Iowa but have lived in the Washington D.C. area for more than 30 years. I moved to DC after law school when I was 23 and practiced law for 19 years as a Trust & Estate lawyer at Shaw Pittman before moving over to financial services.
Q: Did you have any other lawyers in your family? What made you decide to become a lawyer?
A: No, there are no other lawyers in my family. As an undergrad, I studied political science and, like many liberal arts majors had to figure out what was next so I went to law school – both undergrad and law school at the University of Georgia. In my first year of law school, my property law class introduced me to Trust & Estates concepts. After that, I decided to focus on T & E law. I have always enjoyed the combination of personal issues and tax issues – the numbers side of that area of the law.
Q: Why did you decide to make the change from working in a law firm to working for an investment management firm?
A: It was the opportunity. I had worked at only one place since I was 23. I loved Shaw Pittman and my practice, but when U.S. Trust came to me with a job opportunity in my early 40s, I decided if I was ever going to make a change, this one probably made sense.
Q: When did you start incorporating financial planning into what you were doing for clients?
A: As soon as I joined U.S. Trust. As a T & E attorney, I had noticed how often clients knew relatively little about their own finances. While I was able to tell clients how much estate or gift tax they could save by implementing certain planning strategies, sometimes I had to do that with less than all the relevant information. In the financial planning process, we help clients gather all their financial data and demonstrate not only how much tax they can save, but also the impact of a significant gift or other planning strategies on their own lifestyle. Of course, financial planning covers a great deal more than the impact of estate planning. We look at more everyday issues like:
• Am I on the right path to retirement?
• Can I afford a vacation home?
• Should I pay off my mortgage?
• Am I saving enough for my children’s education?
• What if I need long-term care?
Q: At Chevy Chase Trust, you are the Chief Planning Officer. What is the roll of the planner?
A: At CCT, we believe the planner should be involved from the outset. Understanding a client’s assets, expected inflows, expected outflows, and objectives really helps us recommend the right investment strategy. For example, for a client who says “I don’t need to leave any money to anyone; I just want to live out my days in my current lifestyle,” our investment approach would be very different from that of a client who says “I want to preserve all my capital to maximize the legacy I leave to my family.”
Q: We also make sure clients have their estate plans in order.
A: Our planning is never static; we want to update any plan periodically – every couple of years — to bring our assumptions current and consider changes in the client’s facts and circumstances.
Q: What makes Chevy Chase Trust’s financial planning unique?
A: One of the hallmarks of our firm is that every one of our colleagues recognizes the value of planning. It is an integrated part of what we do for our clients. Many other investment firms, if they provide planning at all, will send data off to a service center and the planner may never even communicate directly with the client. Some firms charge additional fees for this work while we consider it a vital part of our customized investment work for a client – it allows us to do our job better.
Q: What type of financial advice to you offer to your children or others as they begin to plan for the future?
A: For people just starting out, I’d tell them that despite it being difficult, contributing to their 401ks or an IRA is one of the smartest things they can do.
For professionals, I’d say they need to look hard at whether they are saving enough over and above the (hopefully) growing equity in their residence and their 401k. We’re all living longer in a low interest rate environment and, typically, savings need to be increased to provide for a long life after retirement.
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you’re not at work?
A: I’ve had a house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland for 29 years and I love spending time there. I like to hike, read, and cook. I usually do my reading and cooking at the shore, and I’ll hike when or wherever I can. If it is a weekend- then Sugarloaf Mountain or the Shenandoah; if on vacation- then the Rockies, Europe, Mexico, Canada – we try to make hiking part of any vacation. My extended family lives in Colorado, so I get out there once a year to hike. Oh and I try to get to New Orleans’s Jazzfest every year!