Since the 1930s, William Blair & Company has been providing wealth management services to high-net-worth individuals and their families. Headquartered in Chicago, this global firm has financial advisors in 15 offices worldwide. It currently oversees more than $33 billion in assets, most of which belongs to individuals of both a high-net-worth and non-high-net-worth nature.
In 2018, William Blair & Company was named to Barron's list of the Top 40 Wealth Managers in the U.S. Then, in 2017, the firm was recognized as the "Investment Bank of the Year" by Mergers & Acquisitions magazine. The firm has also received multiple awards for being an exceptional place to work.
William Blair & Company Background
William Blair & Company opened in 1935, when it was founded by William McCormick Blair. Today, it’s a wholly owned subsidiary of WBC Holdings, which, in turn, is owned by employees of William Blair. The firm has around 150 advisors across the U.S., with domestic branches in Atlanta, Baltimore, Beverly Hills, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. The firm also has international branches in Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Shanghai, Sydney, The Hague and Zurich.
The firm operates as both an investment advisor registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and a broker-dealer registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) and Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). It is affiliated with William Blair Investment Management, LLC, which works with institutional clients.
William Blair & Company Client Types and Minimum Account Sizes
William Blair & Company mainly works with high-net-worth and non-high-net-worth individuals. Its institutional clients include businesses, other investment advisors, real estate and insurance companies, charities, retirement plans and pooled investment vehicles. Account minimums at the firm vary, depending on the program:
- WBIM Sub-Advisory/WBIM Separate Accounts: $2,000,000
- William Blair Comprehensive Fee Program: $100,000
- Private Wealth Management (PWM) Accounts: $50,000
- Platform Separate Accounts: $100,000 (some third-party managers may impose a higher minimum)
Despite the specific minimums listed above, William Blair reserves the right to adjust these requirements as it sees fit.
Services Offered by William Blair & Company
Advisors at William Blair & Company meet with clients several times to determine investment objectives and asset allocation strategies that can help them reach those goals while adapting to changes in their financial lives and risk tolerance. When delivering investment advice, the firm considers the following subjects:
- Retirement planning
- Education funding
- Wealth transfer objectives
- Risk tolerance
- Cash flow needs
- Time frame
- Philanthropic goals
- Tax planning
The firm’s wealth management division provides holistic financial planning guidance in various areas including ones not directly involving securities. These can include:
- Philanthropic strategies
- Estate and multigenerational planning
- Retirement planning
- Investing with tax efficient strategies
With the authorization of its clients, the firm may hire its affiliate WBIM to serve as a sub-advisor to certain accounts.
William Blair can also serve as the investment manager or sponsor of wrap fee programs. For some accounts, William Blair has entered into agreements with asset management platform providers, like PWM Advisors.
William Blair & Company Investment Philosophy
William Blair & Company aims to design portfolios that align with each client’s risk tolerance, time horizon and investment goals. When examining potential investments, the firm relies on fundamental analysis and technical analysis. It also draws from its own proprietary research to identify favorable investments for its clients’ portfolios.
The firm does not limit its scope to specific securities, but rather it considers the wider investment universe to build portfolios with. Depending on your profile, your investment strategy may include:
- Mutual funds
- Exchange-traded funds (ETFs)
- Individual stocks and bonds
- Money market funds
- Private funds
Fees Under William Blair & Company
William Blair & Company doesn’t publish its specific investment advisory fee schedule. However, for context, a recent study by RIA in a Box found that the average annual advisory fee is about 0.95% of AUM. The firm generally charges fees as a percentage of clients' assets under management (AUM). These fees are payable quarterly, either in advance or in arrears.
These investment advisory fees are independent of other expenses, such as brokerage commissions, custodial fees and mutual fund fees. The only exception to this rule is the William Blair Comprehensive Fee Program, which is a wrap fee program. A program like this incorporates all custodial, transactional and advisory fees into a single rate.
What to Watch Out For
In its most recent SEC filings, William Blair & Company reported 16 disciplinary events on its regulatory record. The most recent disclosure on its record occurred in 2017. At this time, the SEC alleged that from 2010 to 2014, William Blair & Company negligently used mutual fund assets to both pay for distribution and marketing of fund shares outside of a written, board-approved rule 12b-1 plan and sub-transfer agent services in excess of board-approved limits. As a result, the firm was required to pay a $4.5 million fine, as well as submit to a cease and desist order.
William Blair & Company, as well as some of its advisors, can receive compensation from certain insurance and securities transactions. That said, as an SEC-registered investment advisor, the firm must uphold its fiduciary duty to provide advice solely in the best interest of the client.
Opening an Account With William Blair & Company
The best way to become a client of William Blair & Company is to call the firm's Chicago headquarters at (312) 236-1600. You can also check the firm's website to see if it operates a branch near you.
All information was accurate as of the writing of this article.
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