Understanding the Mechanics of Investing
Sterling Investment Advisors seeks to improve its clients’ businesses by gaining a thorough understanding of their needs
by Sharon A. Shaw

Enjoying the game of golf was not enough for Tim Flatley; he also wanted to understand how each course was put together, why the architect made certain decisions and how those decisions would influence a player’s behavior. This quest for understanding inspired Flatley to become a course rater for Golfweek magazine. He has now rated more than 100 courses around the world, including eight in Scotland this past fall, but his passion for understanding is not limited to golf.

Flatley, president and CEO of Berwyn-based Sterling Investment Advisors Ltd., works with entrepreneurs from a variety of backgrounds to manage their finances. To better understand the decisions these business owners face, Flatley underwrites Executive Leaders Radio, a program featuring local entrepreneurs that airs throughout the greater Philadelphia area. “It allows me to see how lots of different businesses function and furthers my awareness of the business community,” he says. He also serves on the board of a public bank because “to help oversee the operations of another business helps me understand how they make decisions.”

One thing he has learned from these experiences is that entrepreneurs are not like other investors. They put in long hours and often lead hectic lives, with their business and personal matters wrapped together. They also prefer to invest in different things, such as real estate, new business ventures and development.

“Entrepreneurs like to invest in illiquid investments,” Flatley says. “We help them decide how to keep illiquid investments to a reasonable level while maintaining [assets available] for other needs. … If you sell [these investments] at the wrong time you get a poor price. Business owners need help to maximize the value of owning a business, to invest and to set money aside to cover taxes.” Insights such as these have allowed him to tailor Sterling Investment Advisors’ services to better serve his clients.

Each of the firm’s clients receives individual attention, yielding a unique and personalized experience, including a data-aggregation system that provides reports in real time and helps Sterling Investment Advisors communicate with clients about their complex financial lives. “We used to have to re-run a new report with each change. … They were outdated before the ink was dry,” Flatley says. “That’s why financial planning does not produce the desired results sometimes. Plans sit on a shelf until they are no longer valid.” 

These new reports reflect updated information in a format that can be quickly accessed.  “The new ones can be run with today’s value,” he says. “That’s going to become really important because of the significant change in tax law occurring.” No matter what effect the recent changes to the tax law result in, Flatley says many business owners will be facing a “myriad of decisions.”

“The beauty of this system,” he says, “is that it all will be taken into account: tax code, estate and retirement planning.”

Sterling Investment Advisors can assist business owners with all of these aspects of their financial lives. “Many [entrepreneurs] have a disjointed approach,” says Sean Flatley, Tim’s business partner, noting that business owners often work with separate firms for their legal, financial and insurance needs. “We coordinate all of these and can interpret the information within a busy executive’s time frame.”

Some of these busy clients are the founders of Revzilla, the fastest-growing online source for motorcycle apparel and accessories. Anthony Bucci, Matt Kull and Nick Auger, who founded Revzilla, have enjoyed remarkable growth. “They work 60 hours a week in a fast-growing company,” Tim Flatley says, “and want information that is concise, fast and delivered in a manner easily acted upon. … Because we work with so many entrepreneurs we can expedite the process of understanding what to do.”

Making Life Better
Knowing this about its clients’ lifestyles has allowed the firm to seek out the best methods of serving them. Sterling Investment Advisors is an independent firm affiliated with Charles Schwab. Being independent allows the firm to offer a greater variety of investment options. “There is a growing trend that investors want to work with independent organizations that have total flexibility in their investment offerings,” says Tim Flatley. “Many firms still restrict the types of investments that their advisors can offer.”

The lack of a heavy infrastructure, such as those found at major firms, gives Sterling Investment Advisors the ability to offer better pricing but still offers its clients state-of-the-art technology, including mobile check deposit, online account transfers and a secure website on which they can record—and access—all of their personal documents from anywhere in the world.

“Everything Charles Schwab offers is designed around making life easier and better for our clients—that’s why we chose to work with Charles Schwab,” Tim Flatley says. He also believes in enriching his clients’ lives through unique experiences. Sterling Investment Advisors hosts cultural-enrichment events at locations including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation. Each spring it also hosts a luxury car event at the Waynesborough Country Club in Paoli. At this event, clients have had the opportunity to drive the latest Ferrari and Aston Martin models with a professional driver in the passenger’s seat to help explain the car’s features.

“Because they are so busy they often do not take time to do the sort of things these events offer; we make it easy,” says Tim Flatley. “We have the cars and drivers come to Waynesborough. We have a unique community of clients who like getting together and trying new things. They do not want to attend stock-market-update lectures.” Although he believes in the importance of such stock-market education—and recently returned from four days of learning from the best in the industry to remain at the top of the investment world— Tim Flatley says most of his clients “assume we are already implementing these tactics and tell me, ‘That’s what we hire you for.’”

So great is his understanding that he regularly writes for Worth magazine, a publication offering a blend of financial and investing strategies, and has been published more than 20 times. He notes that Worth takes the responsibility of its writers seriously and recently vetted him through a watchdog company that performed a background check, confirmed degrees and verified assets under management.

In everything Flatley does—whether it’s knowing how a golf shot behaves on a certain hole or knowing how to maximize the return on a client’s assets—he is guided by one thing: an intense desire to gain understanding and then impart valuable information to others. “I want to understand how the world works,” he says, “and what draws people to the great golf courses, a great business stock or a great car … or motorcycle.”

Sterling Investment Advisors Ltd.
1055 Westlakes Drive, Suite 150
Berwyn, PA 19312
Phone: 610-560-0400
Web: www.sterling-advisors.com