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The Starner Group: Offering Diverse Perspectives to Clients

Throughout her life, Margaret C. Starner has been a staunch advocate of financial planning for men, women and families. She also recognizes the value of being able to bring diverse perspectives to bear on a client’s financial situation.
“One of the ways we provide value is to create custom portfolios and specialized strategies for each client,” says Starner, CFP®, senior vice president, financial planning and managing director at The Starner Group of Raymond James & Associates in Coral Gables. 
Bruce Cacho-Negrete, Margaret Starner and Scott Weingarden
Widely recognized as a pioneer in the financial planning industry, Starner has built a dynamic wealth management practice with approximately $600 million in assets under management. “Today, our financial practice serves a wide variety of clients, including many lawyers and other professionals,” she says. “We primarily cater to high net worth (HNW) families who have excess cash flow. If you have a strong cash flow, it’s easier to plan for the future and get out of any immediate trouble.”
Starner’s team includes two other partners – Bruce Cacho-Negrete, CFP®, vice president, financial planning, who joined the group in 2007, and attorney Scott Weingarden, JD, CFP®, CIMA®, vice president, investments, who has worked with Starner since 1997. Other members of the group include Josh Espinosa, investment portfolio specialist, and three other client service and support staffers.
“What is unique about our team is that all three partners work with every client,” says Cacho-Negrete. “We do not divide things up. That’s a benefit to our clients because they get three different perspectives.”
For example, Cacho-Negrete has a background in management consulting, and typically leads the financial planning team for a client. That may include looking at the client’s goals, tolerance for risk, current assets, mortgages, insurance policies, and retirement plans. He is also responsible for product analysis and market research.
Another unusual aspect of the South Florida team is that Cacho-Negrete divides his time between the firm’s Coral Gables and Los Angles offices. “We are a bicoastal practice, which allows us to serve clients who move elsewhere in the country or have children who move away from South Florida. We have built a great professional network and can help our clients in almost any location.”
As the Starner Group’s investment manager, Weingarden looks carefully at how to construct a client’s portfolio based on goals and risk tolerances. “One of the changes we’ve seen in recent years is that clients who were growth oriented before 2008 are now less eager to take risks,” he says. “They are willing to miss some of the upside potential in order to avoid being caught in that kind of downturn again. As a result, we have restructured a number of portfolios to be more conservative.”
However, the group’s clients are also grappling with the difficulty in generating suitable returns in a low interest rate environment. “Income is harder to come by today than it was a decade ago,” Weingarden says. “You can’t just go out and buy high-quality bonds that deliver 6 to 7 percent yields.” 
To address that issue, Weingarden talks with clients about alternative investments such as real estate investment trusts (REITs), master limited partnerships (MLPs) and other types of real assets that can diversify a portfolio. Because these types of assets respond to different market forces than stocks and bonds, they can help cushion a client’s portfolio in the event of a downturn, while creating opportunities to boost income and potential appreciation of value, he says. 
A Lifelong Interest 
Starner has always been interested in financial planning, long before it became a frequent topic of social conversations. She grew up in Mississippi where her parents had a small family business, and majored in economics at Stanford University. 
After her husband Roger took a job with National Airlines, the couple moved to Miami, where Starner became active with the League of Women Voters. “I met many smart women who had no idea about how to manage money other than balancing their checkbooks,” she says. That experience rekindled Starner’s focus on financial planning, and she began offering a series of courses called “Everything you wanted to know about money but were afraid to ask.”
Within a year, Starner had built a base of clients including professional women and corporate executives. “Back in 1981, Raymond James was the only major firm interested in financial planning, so I joined the firm and have been with them ever since then,” she says.
Today, Raymond James is one of the nation’s leading independent financial services companies with business units that serve a variety of clients, from individuals and small business owners to municipalities and major corporations. The firm has more than 6,200 financial advisors, more than 2.5 million client accounts, and approximately $479 billion in total client assets with 2,500 locations throughout the United States, Canada and overseas. 
Starner’s ability to connect with clients, identify their needs and develop appropriate strategies has enabled her to build a strong practice through the years. In 2001, Mutual Funds magazine recognized Starner as one of the “100 Great Financial Planners” in the United States and in 2005, she was featured in Financial Advisor magazine, which identified her as a “trailblazer” in the financial planning industry. Barron’s has named Starner as one of America’s Top 100 Women Advisors (2007-2014) and one of America’s top 1000 Advisors (2009-2013). 
Reflecting on her career, Starner says she still works with many of her clients from the 1980s, as well as their children and grandchildren. However, the most pressing financial issues have changed since then. “The mid 1980s was the heyday of tax shelters,” she recalls. “Then, the tax law changed in 1986. However many people in South Florida had become mired in these financial pits and didn’t know how to get out. We helped them move away from money-losing tax shelters to assets that would provide income instead.”
Now, many of the Starner Group’s clients in the 45- to 65-year-old age range are focused on accumulating assets they will need for retirement, Starner says. For clients who are ready to retire, the typical key issues revolve around using those assets to generate a flow of income, as well as capitalizing on the sale of a business or professional practice. 
Older clients who have moved into retirement are often most concerned about protecting their assets, maintaining a flow of income, and planning their estates. In any case, Starner says the group tailors its financial planning services around the clients’ goals. “We also collaborate closely with a client’s attorneys, accountants and other advisors,” she adds. “We strive to be great business colleagues and provide our expertise to help the other professionals.”
Finally, Starner says her team is always available to answer a client’s questions or provide advice on a pressing issue. “We take pride in our accessibility,” she says. “That’s one of the hallmarks of our group’s whole-hearted commitment to client service.” 

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