Lehigh Valley Business: How long has ATA Financial Group LLC been operating in the region, and what are its primary services?
Kent Newhart: Our core business was started as Accounting & Tax Associates in October 1983, a local tax and accounting business. My prior 8 years of experience was with two regional CPA firms and as controller of a mid-size company. To meet client needs we continued to expand into consulting, wealth management, and insurance. ATA Financial Group was formed in 2012 to serve as a parent company. We have grown to 9 employees with $850,000 in annual revenues and serve over 500 clients.
Today, our services encompass, wealth management, financial and retirement planning, fee-only asset management, tax preparation of all types for individuals and business, IRS representation, accounting and bookkeeping services, QuickBooks training, insurance & risk management, estate, Medicare, and Medicaid planning, asset protection, and business consulting.
LVB: What have been some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that ATA Financial Group LLC has encountered throughout its years in business?
Newhart: Over 33 years, the biggest challenge has not changed, finding great employees. We have an excellent staff that is technically sound, eager to grow, and that cares about what we do. Although not an easy task, it is well worth the effort to find and develop great employees. The managing of exponential growth of knowledge, technology, and communication is a significant challenge. I never expected to Skype with a client overseas 33 years ago! We are constantly in training, reading, and upgrading — If you slow down, the train WILL run over you.
Because we have faced these challenges, the opportunities have been excellent. Every aspect of what we do has been about planning ahead. Whether it is tax projections, business improvement, financial growth, future protection of families and companies, or targeted returns, clients realize that looking backward and after the fact information serves little purpose in their success.
LVB: How does ATA Financial Group LLC directly stimulate the local economy? Does it work solely in the Greater Lehigh Valley or does it expand into other markets?
Newhart: I believe that the way to a strong US economy starts with jobs. Although our clients are throughout North America, our staff is from the LV and our core business is in the Lehigh Valley. We try to assist our clients in growing their business, knowing that it will likely increase employment. I am a member of the Whitehall Industrial Authority board, whose primary purpose is to lend money to business but must create new jobs as part of the eligibility.
On the wealth management side, we feel that as we continue to grow the wealth of our clients, they will feel more secure and comfortable. We see that this often increases their spending patterns and charitable activities for the benefit of many.
LVB: What credentials and licenses have to be obtained to become an investment adviser representative, Certified Financial Planner, or asset manager?
Newhart: Credentials and licensing have become hot news for the last 18 months. What license truly represents the best interest of the client, only a fiduciary license. In the code of ethics within accounting, we are required to not only be independent but appear independent. 15 years ago, before I started managing assets, I could not reconcile charging a commission and maintaining my independence. Our Series 65 license precludes us from receiving a commission and we are a fee-based only firm properly serving in a fiduciary capacity. We are Registered Investment Advisors (RIA) with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Our staff analyst is working toward certification as a CFA.
We have life and health and accident insurance licenses for life, disability, health, and long-term care insurance. We are not captive agents and represent approximately 20 companies. This allows us to receive multiple quotes when preparing our planning and to maintain our independence. We have a licensed staff Enrolled Agent able to practice before the IRS.
LVB: What does the future look like for ATA Financial Group LLC? Does it have plans for growth?
Newhart: The future is always exciting even without a crystal ball! We are in the process of putting an addition on our office in Whitehall to make room for more employees as our business grows. As more people understand the importance of planning ahead, they are interested in a firm with our experience and style of working. Potential clients want someone who is independent, uses a holistic approach to their financial well-being and we meet them face to face. With the complexity of our financial markets and tax laws, our wealth management grew 27% in 2016 and is the fastest-growing aspect of our company.
Because of new laws regarding fiduciary responsibility and regulations, there will be a drastic reduction in companies providing financial services. Metlife was sold a few months ago and some large brokerage houses are considering $750,000 account minimums. Advisors not properly licensed will have to get licensed or get out of the business. Beginning in April, only fiduciary licensees will be able to manage tax-qualified accounts i.e. 401(k) 403(b) and IRA. We are fiduciaries, we have no account size minimums and everyone receives a personalized plan. Our staff will increase by at least two in 2017.
Our firm is about exceeding expectations and we expect great things for our clients and staff in 2017!