Tech Boom
Through technology and expertise, Sterling Investment Advisors crafts plans to help clients reach their destinations
by Sharon A. Shaw

Retirement is quickly approaching for millions of Americans, yet many remain unprepared. While the average age for retirement is 62, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average 50-year-old has less than $44,000 saved. With the average retirement lasting 18 years, it is no surprise that 80 percent of Americans fear they will not have enough money to see them through these later years.

“There is an avalanche of boomers reaching retirement,” says Tim Flatley, president and CEO of Berwyn-based Sterling Investment Advisors Ltd. “There are more retirees than there are investment advisors to serve them.”

For more than 30 years, the professionals at Sterling Investment Advisors have worked with businesses and individuals to determine their financial needs and guide them to the best options for their future. Adding to the challenges facing them, technology is changing the way advisors perform their duties and communicate with clients.

“This is not our father’s or grandfather’s industry,” says Paul C. McClatchy Jr., vice president of financial planning at Sterling Investment Advisors. “So much has changed.” Most of these changes are positive: Information is available instantly; efficiency is improved; and changes can be made quickly. He notes, however, that his firm serves several generations of clients, including some who are not yet comfortable with technology. “As a firm,” he says, “we need to be keenly aware of all of our clients’ comfort levels in regards to utilizing technology.”

As an independent investment firm using Charles Schwab as custodian for investments, Sterling Investment Advisors can offer each client the most appropriate solution. The objective is to help them reach their goals by investing wisely, managing risk and preserving wealth. Their formula has paid off with much recognition, such as making the “Philadelphia 100” list of the 100 fastest-growing private firms in the Philadelphia area multiple times. Through educational and social events, online resources and personalized service, the firm works to create long-lasting relationships with clients.

McClatchy understands the benefits and risks of incorporating technology into the investment industry. Before joining Sterling Investment Advisors, he worked for eMoney Advisor, an Internet-based financial planning software company. During his seven years there, McClatchy was responsible for the implementation of the firm’s planning techniques and practices, as well as for measuring their effectiveness. Prior to that, he spent more than 16 years at The Vanguard Group working in the investment education and client-advice areas. “Vanguard was a phenomenal learning experience,” he says. “I was immersed in the industry … but it was a limited realm. I had always wanted to be part of a startup company and experience the fast-paced environment that came with that culture; eMoney was all that and more.” Now as an integral part of the Sterling Investment Advisors team, he says, “I am always considering if we are using technology to the best of our ability.

“Technology changes every day,” McClatchy continues. “The average lifespan for tech is two years. You can’t ever be too comfortable, but each application has an upside and downside. … When looking at new tech we still have to do our due diligence and ask, ‘What is the downside?’”

Thanks to advancements in technology, Sterling Investment Advisors’ clients can now access information regarding their accounts instantly through a personal website rather than waiting for quarterly reports from the various places that custody their accounts. This has positive implications for advisors as well. “We used to need to get quarterly statements from our clients,” McClatchy says. These paper reports were often difficult for clients to find and may have included various accounts that were valued on different dates, he notes. That data can now be quickly and easily accessed for all institutions on the same date and analyzed for the client’s needs.

“As an advisor I know I am running timely accurate information and I can spend more time with my clients,” McClatchy says. “Once the information is pulled, it flows across all reports and can be used in our meetings. I can sit and face the client and know the information is correct. It used to take weeks to put a similar report together.”

Flatley points to one client in particular, a physician, who learned he would be required to increase his workload without any increase in pay, so he decided to retire instead. Thanks to the technology available to its advisors, Sterling Investment Advisors was able to quickly analyze his needs and calculate the adjustments that would be needed to allow this client to retire early. “Our system accelerated the process from one that would have taken several weeks into several days,” Flatley says. “We were able to open a portal, link the accounts, perform data aggregation and present a plan.”

Other forms of technology allow advisors to communicate more conveniently through means such as e-mail and Skype; be notified about important anniversary dates or actions that are about to expire; track metrics; be alerted when a pre-established limit is reached; and make automated trades at the appropriate time.

Technology also offers clients a way to participate in their portfolio as never before by enabling them to research funds through financial reporting websites, learn about investing strategies through blogs and even make trades through online brokerage companies. McClatchy cautions that investors should undertake any such activity only in conjunction with their advisor. “Some of these sites often offer one person’s interpretation; others are pure data, which it is up to the reader to interpret. They often highlight popular strategies, but an advisor can explain the downside,” he says. “We are there to guide our clients towards taking actions which are more appropriate when considering their risk tolerance and long-term goals.” In fact, it was exactly this sort of information overload that brought McClatchy into the field of personal finance. “I always enjoyed analyzing things and had a forte for explaining complex ideas,” he says. “After watching my family and friends deal with all of the advice floating out there, I wanted to be able to help.”  

While many choose to invest on their own, few are able to maintain the sort of broad outlook needed to successfully plan for their future in the way a financial advisor can. “You would think investing is not too hard,” McClatchy explains. “There are programs you can follow that allow you to feel you can do it yourself. We never hear from the do-it-yourselfers until the market goes down and they realize it’s not so easy.  … When the market goes down, many have no Plan B for where to put their money next. An advisor has more options available to offer as well as training and certification to help put everything into perspective.” He feels it is part of an advisor’s job to educate clients by using technology to review the available data and explain the advantages of tried-and-true strategies. “There are many tools available, but we’ve done the work already,” he says.

To accurately assist clients, McClatchy says, “A lot of up-front work is collecting data and asking the right questions. From the very beginning we know what they are looking for. An advisor must establish priorities and explain that either it’s not going to happen or here is what you have to do to make it work. We are paid to deal with the hard questions. Planning is easy; it is harder to implement. You need to revisit a plan periodically to ensure it continues to be appropriate.”

“Thanks to technology, the client can moderate their portfolio,” Flatley adds. “They can participate and help manage their investments, but with everything changing at warp speed, it is even more important to have a plan for your future that will get you to your destination.”

Sterling Investment Advisors Ltd.
1055 Westlakes Drive, Suite 150
Berwyn, PA 19312
610-560-0400 |

Photography by Jody Robinson