Hitting it off with big-league clients

Finances: An Ellicott City adviser finds a niche market serving wealthy people.

March 25, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

When the Baltimore Orioles' Jason Johnson wants a new car, the Cleveland Indians' Brady Anderson wants to build a house or Oak Crest Village resident Julia McMurray has questions about her retirement, they all call one guy: Joseph N. Geier.

The Ellicott City businessman has made a living for more than 15 years as the money manager for dozens of professional athletes - most of them baseball players.

As players' salaries keep rising, Geier has found more success - enough to start a second company managing money for Howard's high-net-worth retirees. With a possible work stoppage looming over professional baseball, he could find no better time to look to increase the retiree business.

"I see that side of the business growing faster than the athletes'" side, said Geier, relaxing in his new office in Waverly Woods.

"In Howard County, there are a lot of wealthy people," he said. "For other people that want asset management, they're getting the same asset management my athletes get."

Geier Asset Management, the company focused on high-net-worth individuals, is the latest of Geier's ventures to fall under the Geier Financial Group umbrella. The asset management company, which he owns with partners Chad Norfolk and Thomas Geier - a brother who manages the portfolio - has grown steadily from referrals since its founding in 1999.

Now the partners are hoping to generate more business from the rich-but-not-so-famous, capitalizing on the success Geier has had as a financial guru to baseball's heavy hitters.

"Our main goal is to develop a local presence in Howard County and then expand," said Norfolk, vice president of operations. "For the athletes, we want to make sure nobody takes advantage of them. We do the same for our retirees."

Geier Financial Management, the company for the athletes, has grown 30 percent in profit and revenue each year during the past five years, Geier said, in part because the athletes' salaries keep growing and because more clients have signed on. The company, wholly owned by Geier, oversees the financial affairs of about 35 players, offering services from balancing checkbooks and collecting rents on investment properties to helping clients buy homes and cars.

Geier Asset Management, for people with a net worth of $250,000 or more, has seen revenue double in the first year, and profit increase by 50 percent, Geier said. Last year, revenue and profit grew by 25 percent. The company manages more than $60 million in investments and cash - including that of the athletes. Norfolk said he wants to increase the figure to $500 million in five years.

But that won't be easy.

Trying to woo the rich has become a sharply competitive business in recent years, with most of the very large brokerage firms, boutique shops and family offices all vying for the same clients - the very small percentage of Americans who have assets in the millions of dollars.

All those institutions, like Geier's companies, offer their services for a flat fee - a small percentage of assets under management. For Geier, that percentage ranges from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent. Moving to fee-based services also is a growing trend in the financial services industry, according to the Boston-based research company Cerulli Associates.

"There's an industrywide push toward going after richer clients than you already have," said Andrew Gillette, managing director with Cerulli. "If you're going to spend a lot of time, you're going to spend it with a person it makes sense to spend time with. Their plan is to find the wealthy clients."

With names such as FleetBoston Financial, the Deutsche Bank Group and JP Morgan following the money, it's tough for a name such as Geier Asset Management to stand out. That's where names such as Brady Anderson, Armando Benitez and Jason Johnson come into play.

"We call [Geier] first before we make a purchase just to see what he wants to do," said Johnson, a pitcher who is entering his sixth season in the major leagues and fourth with the Orioles. Johnson makes use of all of Geier's services, including bill paying and help with auto and home purchases.

"We're talking about a car right now. He's trying to see if we can get a better deal," Johnson said. "He's done a million things we probably couldn't have done ourselves."

That, to customers of the Asset Management business, is encouraging.

"It makes you feel more confident in a person when you know they're taking care of a large amount of money," said McMurray, the Oak Crest Village resident, who has been with Geier about three years.

"He's most interested in saving your money," she said. "He's explaining what has happened and what he expects to happen. I'm in good hands. I'm doing great."

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