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Take Back Control: Sherilyn Williams Casiano on providing the affluent true control of their wealth

May 17, 2018 • SPECIAL FEATURES, Women in Leadership, Finance & Economics, Editors' Pick, Transformation

What is the secret to sustain and grow your wealth in the most effective and efficient way? In this interview with Sherilyn Williams Casiano, Founder and CEO at S.I Williams Wealth Management LLC, she revealed the keys to successful wealth management based on her years of experience in the family office industry, and how having access to high quality information is a prerequisite for gaining true control of your wealth.

 

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. Let’s start this interview by you giving us a glimpse of what your day looks like as a successful leader of a reputable wealth management firm.

My day starts with a 4-mile run. Then I get my two boys ready for school. After they’re off to school, I spend a few minutes reviewing my carryforward To Do items from the previous day, making a new master action list of at least 7 things that I want to accomplish today. Then, I review and organize the details of open items to identify what’s missing, what’s critical, what I need to initiate, and what I’m waiting for someone else to initiate. If I have meetings scheduled, I create, review or revise the meeting agenda. I then spend my day managing my checklists, calls, emails, and requests from clients and their advisers.

In general, I work with a master list of tasks and a series of specific lists for each of my clients to manage all of the projects and recurring activities.

To manage my email, I use a series of sub-folders set up in Outlook to manage communication with my clients, their trusted advisers, and my business relationships.

During the day, I manage project accountabilities for several projects,  specifically: DWIMBS software enhancements; individual clients’ projects and activities; and various executive and business development projects, such as our new webinar series, my forthcoming book Take Back Control, and developing our Family Office Operations Consulting business.

When my boys were in grade school, I was very active in their school’s Parent Teacher Association and served as an executive member of the PTA’s board of directors. Evenings and weekends are reserved for family and quiet time, although more often than not work intrudes.

 

In 2015, we had a conversation with you in which we talked about your transition to S.I. Williams Wealth Management and how your aspiration for a system that makes managerial tasks easier led to the creation of DWIMBS™ or the Dynamic Wealth Information Management Business Solution. Since then, what are the greatest achievements or the most significant progress you have had?

Many new and exciting enhancements have been added to DWIMBS which let users do things that solve some of the biggest family office challenges. The server-based product was updated and perfected. Some of the specific enhancements to DWIMBS include:

i. Expanding the built-in productivity tool to enable the family office team to easily assign and manage the progress of tasks among team members.

ii. Adding a secure transaction recall feature, which reduces the time needed to process a transaction, thus improving productivity and increasing accuracy.

iii. Making it easier to search and find information with our improved filtering function.

iv. Building 55 carefully designed new reports that enable our clients to gain greater clarity and insight about their wealth that they can now use to support their decisions about what to do with their assets.

v. Designing a clients’ and advisors’ portal that provides secure permissions-based authentication and access to the information they need to effectively do their work.

vi. Expanding portfolio information management to include tracking tax lots, shares history, stock splits, reverse stock splits, and much more.

vii. Expanding the reconciliation function to be able to reconcile both bank and non-bank accounts, such as investment accounts, brokerage accounts, and other portfolio accounts.

 

With DWIMBS, you are able to streamline administrative functions and at the same time allow your clients to have true control and confidentiality. What features of the system are you continually working on?

The features of DWIMBS that I am ccontinually working on are those that enable us to give the wealthy the right kind of accurate and timely information that gives them true control of their wealth. We’ve optimised our family office reports to provide the family members, and tax and estate professionals, with true decision-support insights.  These insights include:

• How to optimise cash flow and liquidity across the family’s investments in marketable securities, operating companies, direct investments in private equity, limited partnerships, and the family’s commercial and personal banking relationships

• Capturing and managing hard assets and collectibles and insurance coverage to assess levels of risk protection

• Intergenerational wealth preservation and ensuring sufficient liquidity to cover estate taxes

• Managing private foundation and personal charitable contributions for tax planning and cash flow forecasting

• Full profit and loss insights into operating company performance.

Like most family offices, I used to struggle to get all the tax information together for the tax advisers to prepare annual tax returns. Because of DWIMBS, this year I was able to complete and deliver to tax advisers all of my clients’ tax schedules and reconciliations four months earlier! Even I was amazed!

We are also continually working on making the user experience logical, efficient, and easy so that the technology works the way the user works. That means assessing what key strokes are required to complete an entry, looking at how the fields are organised, and making sure it’s easy to enter, retrieve, edit, save, and generate report information. The easier and more logical things are, the more efficient your use of time is. I am constantly asking myself, “Does this make sense? Do I want to do this? How easy was it to access this or that information? How long did it take to answer a client’s or adviser’s inquiry?”

Remember, the whole reason I got into the software business was to make my day-to-day work easier and more efficient and to supply more of the right kinds of information to my clients. So, besides being the creator of the product, I am first and foremost the number one user. For example, like most family offices, I used to struggle to get all the tax information together for the tax advisers to prepare annual tax returns. Because of DWIMBS, this year I was able to complete and deliver to tax advisers all of my clients’ tax schedules and reconciliations four months earlier! Even I was amazed!

 

Your clients are investment bankers and high-end venture capitalists who value excellent asset control. What challenges you most and how do you successfully align investments with their interests and values?

The number one challenge for me is getting complete information from them because they are so busy doing deals. So, I’ve learned to rely on their executive assistants to help me get the information I need to keep my reporting accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-date. Because DWIMBS captures so much relevant information for the client, it becomes a simple matter for me to focus on the information that is missing.

I consider my main purpose– and the purpose of the DWIMBS method and software– is to give clients the accurate and comprehensive information they need, in order to have true control of their wealth. Whoever has the most accurate and complete information has the greatest control. I am not an investment adviser. My clients are primarily hands-on investors, so they manage the bulk of their investments themselves. Giving them complete, accurate, and easily-understood information ensures that they’re making evidenced-based investment decisions in line with their interests and values.

 

You have a forthcoming book titled Take Back Control, which will be of great significance to people who are interested in learning how to protect and secure their wealth. What are the highlights of your book that we should all look forward to?

Well, Russ Alan Prince, who writes a column in Forbes, states that the 3 main concerns of the wealthy are: 1) control, 2) intense customisation, and 3) tight oversight of providers. The book Take Back Control shows how a properly designed family office can be the wealthy’s best tool for managing these concerns.

The book takes the mystery out of why a wealthy person can’t get a complete picture of their wealth.

It shows the wealthy how to free themselves from the illusion of control provided by traditional wealth management approaches – and achieve true control.

The book also details a proven family office model that establishes a solid foundation on which to build an effective family office that is designed to give the wealthy family true control – regardless of the personalities that come and go.

It provides a step-by-step implementation plan for setting up such a family office.

 

Aside from DWIMBS, you mentioned that you have some additional software products in mind. Could you give us an overview about those software products? Are they discussed in your book?

The first one that we are planning is a suite of applications that would make advisers’ jobs easier, especially in the trust and estates area. They’re not discussed in the book – maybe we can discuss them in a future article.

 

In refining your software products, what are the things that you pay greatest attention to? What are the constraints you usually deal with and how do you address those barriers?

First, I am concerned with the end users of the products: what information they need, why they need it, how they use it, when they use it, how often they use it. Each time you ask those questions, you learn something. My intention is to make everyone’s job easier and more effective.

As for the constraints, they’re the evil twins, time and money. It always takes longer, and costs more than you expect. A combination of Parkinson’s Law and Murphy’s Law.  Parkinson’s Law is “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” (also that expenditures expand to meet the allocated budget). Murphy’s Law is that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and at the worst possible time. Keeping in mind that these two laws are always in play helps in planning and navigating delays without being bent out of shape by them.

 

With the increasing competition among wealth management firms and multi-family offices, what makes you the best-in-class?

What makes us best-in-class is that we are committed to: 1) giving the wealthy family true control, not an illusion of control, by giving them the precise information they need to make evidence-based decisions; and 2) proactively thinking about what information they really need and what they could do if they had that information. Then we go about systematically collecting that information, so that we’re ready with it when they need it. Often, wealthy people don’t know what information they need so they don’t ask for it – and therefore they never get it.

I think it is so important that DWIMBS is the only product designed by someone who has worked first as an employee in a family office; then as a manager; and then as an owner – who also has a background in operations management and hands-on experience writing computer  code. So, I have firsthand experience of the needs and frustrations of the various members of a family office and the programming team. It’s this unique combination of skills and experience that have come together in the creation of DWIMBS.

No other software incorporates a proven method for delivering true control to the wealthy family.

 

Providing services in accordance with the needs and preferences of your clients requires an excellent team and top-notch employees. How do you make sure that your management team is on track in relation to your present and future endeavours?

It all starts and ends with training, education, and communication. In my years of experience as an employee, I often found that companies don’t necessarily train their team adequately enough for them to deliver superior products and customer service. We’ve developed comprehensive training and user guides, which help to onboard new family office professionals faster than our peers.  We’ve integrated best practices for operating the family office functions with “how to use” DWIMBS to execute these practices through the software.

I mentioned before that one of the key things that makes DWIMBS so special is that it incorporates a systematic, proven method for delivering true control. Having a method and work flow which is clearly defined as part of the technology makes training new users easier and ensures that essentials don’t fall through the cracks.

 

For those affluent families/clients who are in search of bespoke service offerings, what should they keep in mind when looking for a family office, especially in today’s business climate where complexities continue to escalate?

When looking for a family office, here are a few things the affluent family/client should keep in mind:

About the Family

• Are they looking to join an existing family office or to formalise their own?

• What is the family’s mission?

• How many generations of wealth advice need management?

• What is the composition of the family’s wealth across personal and business ownership interests?

• Are there compelling family events which will require holistic financial analysis (e.g., wealth transfer from patriarch to next generation)?

• Are there challenges in managing limited partnerships?

• What are the banking, lending, and cash management requirements associated with personal and business entities?

About the Family Office

• How does the family office run its operations?

• Who are the key people in the family office?

• What is their system?

• Does the family office support the types of investments the family holds?

• Can the family office provide the breadth of services required to meet personal and business interests?

• Can the family office support trust administration and income distribution needs?

• Can the family office provide a comprehensive view of the family’s cash flow requirements across business and personal interests and charitable giving obligations?

• Are the banking and cash management services adequate to meet the family’s needs?

• Can the family office manage the insurance and risk management needs of the family’s real estate holdings, hard assets, collectibles, and operating businesses?

The family office should be fundamentally focussed on managing the information that the family needs to make sense of it all and have true control. That’s quite different from the family office being focussed on growing assets.

The family office should be fundamentally focussed on managing the information that the family needs to make sense of it all and have true control.

Even though the majority of multi-family offices in the U.S. are dominated by investment managers, I believe this is a fundamental conflict of interest. I think that Luxembourg has it right, since by law, they separate investment management from family office management.

In my book, Take Back Control, I state that no matter how good the investment adviser is, their compensation is invariably linked to their control of assets – little assets, little compensation; lots of assets, lots of compensation.

 

Evidently, there are changes in management style as our world advances. What do you think are the features of an extraordinary  leader today? What’s your advice for people who want to succeed in the wealth management industry?

A leader today:

a. Must have a vision – and the ability to enroll others in that vision

b. Has a healthy respect for all people in and out of their organisation – and shows it

c. Recognises that he or she does not do it alone

d. Has the ability to recognise and secure talented and committed people

e. Is able to take committed people and turn them into skilled masters

f. Knows that to succeed in the wealth management industry today, you must understand and leverage the power of information.

All wealth management decisions are based on information. Having high-quality information gives you the advantage. Good wealth management is based on good information. Bad wealth management is based on bad or incomplete information.

All wealth management decisions are based on information. Having high-quality information gives you the advantage. Good wealth management is based on good information. Bad wealth management is based on bad or incomplete information. Great Strategy becomes fatal when combined with low quality, inaccurate and incomplete information.

High-quality information is so important that I confess to being an evangelist on the subject. I even wrote two entire articles on it, one in The European Financial Review, titled Big Data & You: Are You Getting High Quality Information?and the other in The European Business Review, titled, The Gospel of Information Management.”

 

When it comes to habits, there is no one-size-fits-all agenda. What are your favourite routines to keep yourself focused and healthy at and off work?

I mentioned before that I start my day with either a 4-mile run or a 30-minute workout session in my building’s fitness center, which helps to get oxygen to my brain cells. I practice my own form of spiritual meditation. And most important, I spend time with my kids. I love to hear them laugh because it makes me smile and my heart glad.

At work, I keep it all in perspective. I maintain a clarity of purpose and direction. I believe that everything happens for a reason.

 

What does success mean to you? What message would you share with our readers, especially in regard to the control and preservation of their wealth?

“Success, for me, means setting goals, and working toward achieving those goals – while being flexible and adaptable to changing conditions in the world.”

Success, for me, means setting goals, and working toward achieving those goals – while being flexible and adaptable to changing conditions in the world. For example, since I was 11 years old, I knew that I wanted to be an accountant, but I also knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur like my Mom, creating something that meets an unfulfilled need. I am now living those dreams every day.

Success also means having the freedom to be creative at work to solve problems, exceed clients’ expectations, fulfill my own entrepreneurial vision, and work with great people.

 

Thank you very much! It was a pleasure speaking with you. We have learned a lot.

About the Interviewee

Sherilyn Casiano is the Founder and CEO of S.I. Williams Wealth Management, LLC, a multi-family office practice in New York City that offers fully outsourced or selective co-sourced solutions to single- and multi-family offices.  She founded her family office practice 14 years ago. Over the years of operating her practice, Sherilyn has saved her families over $15 million in estate tax exposure, $1.2 million in tax preparation fees, over $2 million in income tax, and much more. 

Services offered by her firm include full chart of accounts management; partnership administration services; operating company business management; aggregation of private equity, hedge fund, venture capital, and limited partnership investments; banking and cash management services; cash flow and liquidity management services; trust and estate administration services; tax support services; collectibles management and valuation; insurance/risk management services; and foundation/charitable giving administration. 

Prior to establishing her firm, Sherilyn was a key member of KKR’s personal wealth group for Henry Kravis and the other New York general partners. 

Sherilyn is a certified CPA and holds an MBA from Columbia University School of Business. She is a recognized thought leader in the Family Office sector, sharing best practices through conference events, keynotes, and webcasts. Look for Sherilyn’s soon-to-be released book, Take Back Control, for a more complete guide to establishing your own family office. 

Sherilyn may be contacted at scasiano@williamswealth.com or (646) 979-3656.  

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