WINONA LAKE — Northeast Indiana’s largest financial planning firm is growing even faster than its owners expected.
SYM Financial Advisors, headquartered in Winona Lake, is on our Book of Lists ranking of financial planners for 2022, based on staff size.
“Over the last three years, we’ve had growth that exceeded our plans and have been hiring in a way to be able to meet that continued growth, because we’re realizing it wasn’t just a blip on the radar, it’s here to stay,” Steve Yeager, principal and senior financial advisor for SYM, said.
“In order to meet the kind of growth we’ve had in the last several years, we’re hiring for the next several years, so that we can have people trained up and ready to go,” Yeager said.
“We’ve hired well, and for many years, the majority of our growth was concentrated through a handful of our advisers,” he said.
“If you look at last year, we probably brought in as many new clients from advisers that weren’t here five years ago as our long-term, 15- to 20-year advisers brought in,” he said. “What we’re getting is a whole new generation of advisers that are not only growing their client base, but helping to train the newer advisers.”
Opportunities are attracting talented new staff members, Yeager said.
“They say a majority of firms in our space are still owned by the original founder, and that founder is typically nearing retirement age,” he said. “Our owners are all under 60, and some are even in their 30s and 40s. We’ve built a succession plan within our own firm that is miles ahead of most of the competition.
“When you have a firm that’s owned by the operators, it tends to be higher-performing. We have 12 active employee-owners. Comparing that to the firm that’s owned by one or two people, you just have more people pulling on that rope. I think that’s probably a big part of our growth.”
New employees see a potential path to advancement at SYM, Yeager said.
“It’s really brought us some incredible talent,” he said. “A growing firm like ours, we haven’t had a tough time attracting really good advisers, financial planners and administrative staff.”
“One of the big core values … that’s also a benefit to our clients, is our teamwork,” said Seth Whicker, a principal and financial adviser who serves as co-leader and co-founder of SYM’s Fort Wayne office.
“All of us are salaried individuals, so the fact that we don’t deal in commissions or work in commissions — we all have the same purpose in serving our clients,” Whicker added.
“We limit all of our advisers to about 80-100 clients, so that we are able to, I believe, serve them uncommonly well in the way in which we approach every aspect of their financial lives,” Whicker said.
“There is a big purpose to give back to the communities that we’re in” by sponsoring events and serving on boards, Whicker added. “It’s really neat to see our employees really embrace that.” To promote community involvement, he said, “We give you time off to go serve in those communities.”
Now in its 10th year, the Fort Wayne office opened in 2012 and has grown to 21 employees, Whicker said. Other offices are in Indianapolis, Mishawaka and Midland, Michigan.
With everyone feeling like they’re part of the team, the company is a fun place to work, added Whicker, who joined SYM in 2007.
“The key to that is the fact that we have very little to no turnover each year,” Whicker said. “Out of 60-plus employees … we may have one or two in a year. We do a great job of retaining very talented people.”
SYM’s employees work for a 54-year-old company founded by Yeager’s father, Chuck, and named for the initials of Chuck Yeager and two original partners.
His father has the same name as a famous pilot who broke the sound barrier, and Steve Yeager served 10 years as a U.S. Navy aviator before joining the family business in 2000.
“With a name like Yeager, I had to do something flying-related,” Yeager said. He shares his aviation background with Rod Coleman, SYM’s president, who is based in the Michigan, office. Both flew F-14 fighter jets for the Navy. Yeager calls it “a little different path than most financial advisers take.”
SYM’s home base in Winona Lake makes it different, too.
“We’re pushing $4 billion in assets under management. Most of the firms like us are located in the big cities,” Yeager said from his office in a century-old building.
With its asset base, SYM also ranks fourth on our list of the Fort Wayne region’s largest money management firms.
“We work with company retirement plans as well as individuals and families and foundations for their wealth-management needs,” Yeager said.
SYM set company records for revenue, new clients and deposits from existing clients in 2021, he said.
“This year is shaping up to exceed last year,” he added.
Looking ahead to 2022, Yeager said, “A big part of the plan is what we call ‘leaning into the growth.’ …We need to have people in place and trained. More than anything else, it bumps up some of our hiring plans.”