Seeking to fill a niche, Blair Hodgson DuQuesnay starts a firm targeting young professionals.
Blair Hodgson DuQuesnay always imagined herself onstage, as a professional ballet dancer.
She’s on a different sort of stage these days, playing the lead role in a new advisory firm focused on clients younger than 50.
The name of her New Orleans venture, Ignite, is a call to action. “My goal is to engage younger people to get involved in financial planning now, because it will make their lives so much easier,” she says. “Time is on their side. Making small changes when you are younger is so much better than having to play catch-up later.”
Dance to Finance
DuQuesnay, a 2003 University of Georgia graduate, entered college as a dance major. To hedge her career bets, she opted for a second major in the business school. She especially enjoyed her finance courses and began an internship at a Smith Barney office in Athens, Ga. She moved to Atlanta after graduation, joining a UBS wealth management office. The office served high-net-worth clients, as well as foundations, endowments, and 401(k) and pension plans.
Though she was the youngest team member, DuQuesnay’s strong analytical skills meant she handled quarterly reviews of asset managers for the firm’s institutional clients. It was a valuable learning experience, but after a year, she transferred to UBS’ New York office, fulfilling a longtime dream of living in the city. She studied for the Chartered Financial Analyst designation, which she was awarded in 2009. A year later, she became a Certified Financial Planner.
While in New York, she considered moving away from wealth management and into investment research.
“That was something I struggled with for a long time—not understanding whether I was a salesperson, a relationship person, or an analyst,” she says. “I’m interested in research and portfolio construction, but I also like client interaction. I saw a lot of people on either side of that spectrum, but not a ton of people who were in the middle, like me. It took awhile for me to realize it was an option to pursue both.”
After five years with UBS, she joined a New York-based independent registered investment advisor, Wealthstream Advisors. She considers Wealthstream founder Michael Goodman a mentor. At the firm, she learned to focus on comprehensive financial planning, along with portfolio risk management.
“I was doing complete wealth management for the first time,” she says. “Not only was it investment management for clients, but very detailed, very heavy financial planning.”
DuQuesnay stayed at Wealthstream for about 18 months. She would have stayed longer, but was getting married and moving to her new husband’s hometown of New Orleans.
“New Orleans is fantastic. I just fell in love with it. I’m originally from Montgomery, Ala., so moving to the South wasn’t some crazy notion. And I was a little fatigued about flying every time I wanted to see my family, so I was open to moving closer,” she says.
Investing in Youth
She joined a New Orleans firm as an advisor, but couldn’t shake the feeling that she wanted to replicate the level of service offered by Wealthstream.
“I took a hard look at myself and where I was. I had all the tools I needed to be out on my own, but also I didn’t have a mortgage, I didn’t have children, I didn’t have a lot of the risk factors. So I felt like it was the perfect time for me to take a chance,” she says.
One chief reason for striking out on her own was that she wanted to develop a practice that specializes in serving younger clients. Her Wealthstream clients had been high-net- worth retirees, and she originally expected to work with a similar demographic in New Orleans. But she realized there was an opportunity in an underserved market.
“It seemed that I was hearing more and more younger people saying, ‘I wish I had some money so I could work with you,’ ” she says.
At her new firm, the initial emphasis will be on planning rather than asset management. “Younger people have a lot of financial planning needs, but they don’t meet the (net worth) minimum at most of the firms, because most of their money is in a 401(k) or in their home,” DuQuesnay says. “It’s not investable money for an asset manager, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have needs.” She says that many young professionals have high incomes and will likely become candidates for assets under management in the future.
Ignite’s business model is based on financial planning on an hourly basis. DuQuesnay also manages client portfolios and offers a retainer menu of services.
With the under-50 cohort, common planning questions revolve around mortgages, debt payoff, college and retirement savings, 401(k) asset allocations, and life insurance needs.
When it comes to asset management, DuQuesnay is a proponent of full-market exposure. She prefers wide equity exposure, opting for funds with a range of holdings, rather than funds that are narrowly indexed. She also appreciates the exposure to small, little-known stocks that often add juice to a portfolio. She uses funds from Dimensional Fund Advisors to achieve these objectives.
On the fixed-income side, she aims for the same broad coverage, incorporating asset classes such as U.S. corporates, Treasuries, foreign corporates, and emerging- markets sovereigns.
“In general, my philosophy with fixed income: It’s there to reduce volatility,” she says. “So, I want to stay in higher credit quality and lower duration.”
Creating a Web Presence
Marketing for the new firm is a major focus for DuQuesnay. Because it’s aimed at a younger demographic, social media is a big piece of the strategy. She has a blog, “The Overconfident Investor,” and says it s a good way to establish herself as an expert to a client base that tends to go online for information before picking up the phone.
She explains her marketing plan as “having a robust website, an interactive blog, a social media presence. I do a lot of network- ing in many organizations, and as I meet more and more people, I add them to my email distribution list. I send newsletters, market updates, online presentations, and invitations if I am going to speak somewhere.” Ignite is a one-woman shop, but DuQuesnay hopes to eventually recruit other young advisors to the firm. As more professionals leave the traditional wirehouse environment, she believes there will be plenty of available talent focused on the same goal. “I want the firm to be about helping younger people make the right decisions,” she says.