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From West Point to Points East

Chad and Peggy Creveling left military careers to cater to the financial needs of expatriates in Bangkok.

Morningstar Advisor, 05/30/2012

Navigating the uncertain financial waters of expatriate life is something that Chad and Peggy Creveling know well. They founded Creveling and Creveling Private Wealth Advisory in Bangkok in part to provide the assistance they once sought for their own financial needs but found lacking in a market they say was less focused on client needs and more focused on costly financial products.

Their entry into finance was predicated partly on being in the right place at the right time. They met while cadets in the 1980s at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where they both studied engineering, with Peggy also majoring in economics and Chad in Russian and German. They were later stationed in Hawaii—Peggy as a military intelligence officer and Chad as an Army Ranger—which gave them opportunities to travel in Asia.

“When we decided to get out of the army, we were looking for a transition,” Chad says. “But at that point, as former army officers, you really don’t know much about the business world. You don’t know where you’re headed.”

Chad started an MBA program at Stanford in 1992, completing his first year before accepting an internship in Bangkok. Peggy joined him later in 1993. It was in the heady Asian financial boom of the 1990s that they began their careers in finance. “I guess we were always looking to try something different, and we wanted to live overseas,” Peggy says. “An opportunity presented itself in Bangkok. The change in the Asian capital markets that was going on then was maybe unprecedented but was certainly fascinating. There was a huge demand for people to actually be involved in it.”

They soon found positions in institutional equity research advising the fund manager clients of W. I. Carr (Far East), Paribas Asia Equity, Citigroup, and Salomon Smith Barney, among others. In 1996, they received their credentials as Chartered Financial Analysts and later earned rated analyst rankings in AsiaMoney and Institutional Investor surveys. They had found their stride professionally, riding the excitement of Asia’s “tiger” economy and weathering the financial crisis of 1997 and bubbles in 2001 and 2002. It was an exciting time, but they hadn’t quite found their niche.

Fee-Only Trailblazers
They struck out on their own in 2006, switching from providing institutional-level advice to working with private clients. They adopted the U.S. model of being fiduciaries and offering fee-only financial planning to serve the region’s growing number of expatriates. Being fee-only differentiated the Crevelings from the commission-based advisors most prevalent in Asia. For them, it was a matter of exchang- ing prevailing approaches to financial advising in Asia—sitting across a table and pitching financial products—for being advisors who work for the client with no third-party commissions to get in the way.

“We’ve put ourselves on the same side of the table as the client,” Peggy says. “The client makes the final decision, but we provide all the analysis, research, and recommenda- tions to help you make the optimal decision for your situation.”

They at first worked with clients on a fixed- price, project-by-project basis, but they soon found that clients weren’t following through on the advice they received from the firm.

“We found after about two years of doing single projects that it just wasn’t really working on many levels, but particularly for the clients,” Chad says. “We spent a lot of time and did all the work, and then we’d present the results, and they’d be very happy. We’d follow up with our clients six months or 12 months later and ask how much they were able to get done, and in most cases, it was nothing. Absolutely nothing. So we were meeting a short-term psychological need, but it wasn’t working.”

So in 2008, they adopted a new approach. Recognizing that household finances are always changing, particularly among expatriates, they began to work with their clients more regularly. “We see that there’s actually a tremendous amount of need for someone who can actually come in and analyze a household like we used to look at a company’s finances,” Peggy says. “We analyze and advise on the household’s finances, partnering with our clients as a household CFO.”

Needs of Expats
For expatriates whose financial investments can span multiple tax jurisdictions and currencies, and whose busy lives often preclude having the time and resources to take full control of their finances, that level of service requires enormous flexibility and regular follow-up. Clients often move from country to country in the region. They have multiple bank accounts in multiple currencies. They change jobs and employment benefit packages.

“There are all these permutations just by being an expat,” Peggy says. “It was one of the things that brought us into this. We were looking for that advice once. We personally were looking for someone who did what we’re doing, and there was no one that we could find.”

Another challenge is the diversity of perspec- tives on financial planning, particularly among dual nationality married couples from different cultural backgrounds and differing measures of wealth. Reconciling these different cultural approaches plays a significant part in the advising process.

“We provide a forum and a framework for them to bring those different ideas together,” Chad says. “We don’t provide the solution per se, but we help them work through and reach an understanding.”

It Takes a Professional Team
In line with their personalized approach, the Crevelings have kept their business small. Clients come largely through referrals and include small-business owners, entrepreneurs, and corporate executives.

The Crevelings say they strive to offer services normally associated with much larger firms. To offer their clients the most comprehensive and up-to-date research, they maintain an institutional relationship with Charles Schwab in the United States and other reputable custodians. They also have a research partnership with Litman/Gregory and use Morningstar Advisor Workstation for its global database and ability to track client portfolios across multiple currencies.

Their investing emphasis is on strategic and globally diversified portfolios based on exchange-traded funds and index mutual funds, which provide inexpensive and tax-efficient investment options. Transparency is also a vital component to their business. Creveling and Creveling is licensed by the Ministry of Finance in Thailand—the first foreign investment advisor to be so, Chad says. The firm also voluntarily submits to regulation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

“I just think there’s a demand for what we’re doing,” Chad says. “The biggest thing is people don’t know about us. We’re small. We spend our time advising.”

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