Financial industry veterans open local investment firm

Sterling Wealth Management owners ‘stuck with our hometown’

Mark Stephenson and Bart Little unveiled Sterling Wealth Management, at Commerce Point, 20 S. Limestone St., on Monday, March 8.

“I enjoyed the employees and I enjoyed working there, but to see ourselves expand and grow as professionals, we had to make the move. ...We had to make a change from where we were so we could get to where we want to be,” Little said.

The two, hired within a month of each other at Security, worked together for about 6½ years with Stephenson as branch manager and portfolio manager for the trust department and Little as the full-time financial adviser.

Both were dual employees of Security and Raymond James.

“It was good time to do this for both of us. ... Of course, everybody’s a little nervous, but after so many years, it’s nice (to know) you’ve built up credibility, clientele and respect in the community. Sometimes you have to jump out of the nest and see if your wings work,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson and Little learned the ropes at larger companies in bigger markets, which they believe has prepared them well for their new venture.

They both spent time at Merrill Lynch, albeit at different times and in different offices, and Stephenson worked for PaineWebber while Little worked for American Express Financial Services.

The pair feels they are a good fit philosophically — keep customers in the know and make decisions with them — and that their strengths complement each other.

Stephenson has experience with fee-based services while Little has a strong foundation with retail customers.

“We’ve got everything covered,” Little said. “When the market tanked about a year and half ago, I didn’t get a lot of panicked phone calls from customers because we’d informed them. Both of us really stress what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. ...You can’t double-talk them to death.”

Choosing a direction

After researching their options, the Sterling partners decided to affiliate with Commonwealth Financial Network, a national privately held independent broker/dealer with home offices in Waltham, Mass., and San Diego.

“Nationwide, Commonwealth has about 1,300 advisers which is fairly small, and one thing that’s nice is the ratio of home office people to advisers. There are about 400 home office staffers to work with the advisers, so if we call, we’re going to get an answer,” Stephenson said.

Commonwealth has no proprietary investment platforms, so the Sterling partners, who are considered independent advisers, will have access to virtually any type of investment and can make decisions base on each client’s needs.

“At Sterling,” Stephenson said, “we create portfolios based on what we and our clients decide is appropriate. We have access to thousands of mutual funds and other products for our clients. ...They’re all a little different and they all have different needs, so we can and do offer individual stocks to our clients based on those needs.”

Sterling clients include individuals, businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The two utilize stock feeds and investment and economic research from Morningstar, Inc., Argus Research, Value Line and Standard & Poor’s.

Local boys staying local

Although they experienced it a decade apart, Stephenson and Little both spent years in the Dr. Howard Dredge tennis program at Snyder Park.

“We didn’t cross paths there, but in the program we learned important values, how to compete. You’re out there (on the court) on your own so you learn how to deal with adversity. I think that set both of us up for success in our careers later on,” Stephenson said.

He graduated from Shawnee High School in 1980; Little is a 1990 North High School graduate.

Putting in the time and effort to become proficient on the tennis court also taught them that gain comes from hard work and commitment.

“We know we’ll be putting in long hours for a year or so to get things really up and running, but it will be worth it for us, our families and our clients,” Little said.

Community involvement is an important aspect, too.

“We’re so glad to be able to continue doing business in Springfield and supporting the community. We have a wonderful facility right here in the heart of Springfield. We’ve stuck with our hometown,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson is the past board president of Leadership Clark County and has served on the Springfield Arts Council Board, and as president of the University Club.

Little, now involved with the University Club, is an Advisory Board member with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

“It’s been nice to have been born and raised here,” Little said, “and now be able to bring something back to the community.”

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