How The Barlow Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney helps simplify financial management for investors.
by Pete Croatto


In the always-changing, sometimes-daunting world of financial management, investors crave direct answers and clear counsel from an informed source.


The Barlow Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Doylestown has embraced the concept of simplicity—or, in other words, removing the layers of complexity and getting to what really matters.


The process of “thoughtful reduction helps us clarify what’s important for us as a team as we work together with our clients,” says Drew Barlow, Senior Vice President/Financial Advisor, who is one of the two portfolio management directors at The Barlow Group, along with Brian McKeon, Senior Vice President/Financial Advisor. “We also gain a better understanding of how we can clarify the parts of our client relationships that are meaningful.”


They help to cut through the clutter and business speak by providing effective, easy-to-understand strategies as it relates to the swirl of the stock market and other avenues of investing. The Barlow Group has identified three essential points that investors should grasp.


1.) Understanding risk: “Many of the reasons why financial planning fails is because people were unaware of the risks in parts of their portfolio. They didn’t see things coming, and that undermines their entire plans,” Barlow says. “Before we do anything, we want to have a meaningful discussion around risk itself. What is risk and how can it manifest itself in your portfolio? We talk about the kinds of risk—interest rate risk, market risk, liquidity risk—that investors tend to misunderstand. Ultimately, we develop strategies to help clients identify and manage risk on a continual basis.”


2.) Processing information: Many investors are “bombarded with information and don’t know what to do with it,” McKeon says. “They can turn on a TV show about investing, and hear 10 different opinions on the same subject—all presented by specialists—and they leave more confused than when they started simply because they are unable to process the validity of the information.”


Investors have the best intentions when they watch television shows about investing to help ease their fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, too much information and differing opinions eventually leads to paralysis, according to McKeon. “They're frozen when markets move,” he says. “There are so many opinions coming at them at once that it’s impossible to determine what they need to do.”  


3.) Creating and implementing an investment plan: “You have to have some sort of preset notion that if this happens, then I’ll do that. It takes out the emotion,” Barlow says. “Emotion is an investor’s worst enemy.” The negative effects of emotion on the decision making process can be minimized, Barlow and McKeon agree, by having a system in place to implement appropriate responses for multiple scenarios.


“Sometimes the low-IQ strategy is the right one, which is ‘up is good, down is bad,’” McKeon says. “So, if my portfolio starts to fall, I’m going to sell the things that are going down. Unfortunately, because there’s no discipline and people doubt themselves and doubt their sources of information and don’t understand what’s causing the problem in the first place, they end up paralyzed. You can end up with results like 2008, when people lost massive amounts of wealth because they failed to simplify the risk management process.”


In other words, implementing a successful investment plan involves flexibility over time—not acting on a whim or being unwilling to adapt to changing market conditions.


“Creating and implementing a plan may be best achieved by setting a few simple parameters that we will continually monitor and make certain assumptions around,” Barlow says, “while making sure we act appropriately based on our clients’ needs under various market conditions.”


Adds McKeon, “At The Barlow Group, we know it’s better to avoid creating an inflexible investment plan. It is much more effective to consistently monitor your account’s performance and respond to changes in the financial markets. When you have a complex plan that you blindly follow for many years, it can lead to big problems.”


Simplicity also defines The Barlow Group’s business model. Its six-person team (two portfolio management directors, two relationship managers, two client service managers) ensures that a key member of the group—not a temp or a faraway customer-service rep—can answer questions and concerns. It also allows the group to offer clients pre-established and agreed-upon communications, such as monthly phone calls or meetings to discuss their investment performance.


It’s a treatment befitting a group that has its roots in the community and supports local corporate sponsorships and partnerships and also maintains an unshakeable desire to help friends and neighbors. The Barlow Group offers a series of educational seminars on relevant financial topics at various local venues for prospective and current clients. Contact them for more information about upcoming events.


In a world of smartphones and social networks and nonstop news, The Barlow Group has helped simplify at least one part of a client’s financial life, especially for folks who prefer clarity over limitless options, handshakes and explanations over boilerplate answers. The reason for The Barlow Group’s earned reputation is simple: They treat clients—and their investments—with a care and concern that remains timeless.  


The Barlow Group can be reached at 4529 West Swamp Road, Suite 400, Doylestown, PA 18902, or 215-230-2910.


Pete Croatto is a freelance writer and editor based in Newtown.

Kim Billingsley is a freelance photographer based in Doylestown.


The author(s) and/or publication are neither employees of nor affiliated with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC (“MSSB”), Member SIPC. By providing this third party publication, we are not implying an affiliation, sponsorship, endorsement, approval, investigation, verification or monitoring by MSSB of any information contained in the publication.


The opinions expressed by the authors are solely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of MSSB. The information and data in the article or publication has been obtained from sources outside of MSSB and MSSB makes no representations or guarantees as to the accuracy or completeness of information or data from sources outside of MSSB. Neither the information provided nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation by MSSB with respect to the purchase or sale of any security, investment, strategy or product that may be mentioned.


The information contained in this article is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor’s individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest.