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Business Observer Friday, Dec. 27, 2019 7 months ago

Firm targeting high-net-worth clientele finishes 2019 on a high note

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Sarasota Private Trust aims to at least double assets under management in 2020.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

When John Hart and some colleagues launched Sarasota Private Trust Co. in early 2019, the goal was simple and succinct: grow an trust company for high-net-worth individuals and families using a novel method of co-investing.   

One year in, Hart says, the plan is working well — with big expectations for 2020.

“We are doing something that’s unique and has never been done before, and we want to be world-class at this,” Hart says. “I’m gratified that our culture has resonated with clients.”

Sarasota Private Trust, in year one, has amassed some $120 million in assets under management, a figure Hart projects will at least double in 2020. “ I think that’s very manageable,” he says.

Another positive to 2019, beyond financial gains, is early market acceptance for something new locally, an investing model the firm calls “private banking at its most exclusive level.” The model dates back to 2004, under New York Private Bank & Trust. That bank was founded by the Milstein family and third-generation scion and philanthropist Howard Milstein. The family owns 51% of Sarasota Private Trust, and it also owns the 11-story BMO Harris Bank building in downtown Sarasota, where the firm has offices.  

Sarasota Private Trust’s model is to essentially match clients with access to rare investment opportunities — sans a hedge fund’s layers of high fees — while charging only a performance fee. Both Sarasota Private Trust and the client share the investment, which can cover a host of entities, from a commercial real estate firm to a tech company to a bottling business.

‘We are doing something that’s unique and has never been done before, and we want to be world-class at this.’ John Hart, Sarasota Private Trust

“We don’t just have skin in the game,” Hart said in February. “We have our whole body in the game, and we think that really resonates with clients.”

Another key part of the model is the firm has minority stakes from several prominent Sarasota-Manatee families. Early to join is a list that includes former FDIC Chairman Bill Isaac and his wife, Christine; Ned Davis Research Founder Ned Davis and his wife, Mickey; and Dr. Dean Hautamaki and his wife, Lizzie. The partnership list grew throughout 2019, adding the Benderson family, behind one of the largest developers and landlords in the region; former U.S. Trust portfolio manager Dave Williams ands his wife, Stefanie Williams, who live in Boca Grande; and Skip Sack, a former Applebee’s franchisee and past Chairman of the National Restaurant Association, and his wife, Gail Sack.

A board of advisors for Sarasota Private Trust, the families are more valuable than merely the money they bring, Hart says. They also provide a testimonial of the model to other families and prospective clients. “It’s almost like viral marketing for us,” Hart says.

The early success has led Hart to add some high-level personnel. One new hire is Senior Trust Officer Renee Armbruster, an attorney and certified trust and financial advisor who has been in the Sarasota market for 20 years. Another recent hire is Managing Director Bradley Gayheart, who has two decades experience in wealth management and insurance. He worked for Merrill Lynch in Los Angeles and later worked for a boutique asset management firm in Beverly Hills, with ultra-high net worth families and family offices.

With new families and hires in tow, the biggest challenge at Sarasota Private Trust remains the same as early 2019: getting clients to move out of their current firm in an exceedingly sticky industry. Hart says word of mouth, which comes from successful investments, will be the firm’s best way to continue making inroads in market penetration. Also, adds Hart, people like Armbruster and Gayheart, in addition to Senior Director Brian Volner, a well-known area banker, provide a level of experience to help ease the transition for new clients.

“The reason people change firms is because they are with a firm they do not like, or they have a specific type of life event,” Hart says. “We can help clients through any type of life event. We can handle any family problems or issues anyone may have.”

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