Sam Harris worked for TFS Capital, based out of Richmond, for 12 years as a part owner. His job was to work with financial advisors to help them find investment funds for their clients. He was one remove from the people the funds were designed to help. Now he has hung out his shingle under the name Piedmont Financial as an independent financial advisor. Now he builds portfolios one on one.
Raised in Chesterfield and a finance graduate of Virginia Tech, Harris came to Crozet in 2012, to be an outpost of TFS Capital.
“We looked around for several weeks in Charlottesville,” he said. “One of my colleagues suggested Old Trail. We came and looked and we knew it. We wanted to be in Crozet. So we picked Crozet. My company let me open an office in Old Trail.
“In fact I think Crozet would benefit hugely from having a shared-office space. I thought about it for myself, but when you’re talking about investments you need a closed door—privacy.
When he went on his own, in July, he looked for an office in Crozet and couldn’t find any. He settled for a space at Boar’s Head but he wants his business to be Crozet-centered and he—so far—is the only independent broker in town.
“I started my company because I’ve seen all the ways people pay excessive fees. I’m passionate about keeping people from being ripped-off. It eats away people’s money and it really bothers me.”
Harris started investing in high school. “As a boy I started with baseball stats. I was a numbers guy.” His first investment was in Calloway Golf Company. “I bought three shares. I don’t think I made any money. I think I still have it somewhere.
“I recently bought each my [three] kids one share of Disney stock to get them introduced. I don’t generally think people should be buying individual stocks. My nine-year-old likes to check the price. The younger ones don’t know what it means.”
As for his business philosophy, “I want to be straightforward and transparent and putting clients’ interest above my own. My business will grow when people know that. I want people in Crozet to call me because I have a reputation for doing business the right way. Most investors pay way too much in fees, some they don’t realize.
“People need education about finance in general. Most people shouldn’t try to time the market. Invest consistently and rebalance as you need to. In the long run you’re best off. I don’t like mutual funds—it’s a way people over pay. They underperform for what they charge. One of my biggest philosophies is using ETFs, exchange trade funds, rather than mutual funds. ETFs are not actively managed. It’s not picking funds to outperform the benchmark. They have lower expense ratios, lower turnover, so lower taxes and broad diversification.
“I would build a portfolio with several ETFs to set different market exposure. I rebalance during the year.
“Another thing is I’m an independent, state-registered investment advisor so I have a fiduciary responsibility to act in my client’s best interest.” Being state-registered means he had to pass an exam. Independent advisors who handle over $100 million must also register with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
“Being independent means I don’t have to sell my clients anything. I don’t get compensation from anybody but my clients and my recommendations are totally about their needs.
“As long as you’re diversified, you can react to different market movements. The key is to not take on more risk than you are willing to. Use market drawdowns, declines, to rebalance.
“I’m investing in the exact same stuff as my clients and I can look them in the eye and tell them I’m doing the same thing.
“My grandfather was an entrepreneur in Portsmouth. He started a hardware store. It was my mother’s childhood. For a while he was the only place selling coal. I admired him. I thought it was neat that he owned his own company. My mom tells stories about it all the time.”
Now Harris is a tub on its own bottom, too.