Firm invests in psychology


Szifra is quoted in The Boston Globe

By Davis Bushnell

April 13, 2008

Hires counselor for jittery clients

Given the gyrating stock market and constant chatter about a recession, it’s no wonder that investors are anxious.

Officials at Lexington Wealth Management believe they have an answer for jittery clients – a psychologist, Szifra Birke, who is called on as needed to handle emotional situations.

“I don’t do psychotherapy, so my role here is that of a coach and communicator dealing with behavioral issues stemming from finances,” Birke, 57, said in an interview at the Lexington offices of the 11-year-old asset-management firm.

Birke received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Boston University and a master’s degree in professional counseling from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

“Because of today’s turbulent markets, our clients want to feel comfortable interacting with professionals who not only understand the economics of the situation, but the emotional impact as well,” said Michael S. Tucci, 46, the firm’s chief executive. “Szifra’s integration into the team helps us tremendously in getting a 360-degree view of each client’s wealth-management situation.”

The nine-employee firm, which also has an office in New York City, has 153 clients nationwide, most of them in the Northeast, and $247 million in assets under management.

Lexington Wealth’s annual revenue is more than $2 million and has been growing substantially since 2001, said Tucci, a Winchester resident. Clients are charged an annual 1 percent fee on assets of $2 million to $10 million, with lower percentages for assets of more than $10 million, he said.

In 1998, Tucci joined Kristine Porcaro as a principal of the firm. She is the firm’s chief operating officer. Previously, Tucci had been the founder and partner of a certified public accounting firm, also in Lexington.

Many of the firm’s clients have assets of $2 million to $25 million – an “underserved category,” said Porcaro, 39, adding that the firm can provide services similar to what large investment-management firms offer the super wealthy.

Also, a good number of the Lexington firm’s clients are experiencing some transition personally or professionally, according to Tucci and Porcaro, a resident of Windham, N.H. “These can be individuals who, for example, are going through a divorce or selling a business,” Porcaro said.

And it is these cases with emotional overtones that Birke is asked to address.

“A priority today is trying to keep people calm because of the volatile stock market,” said Birke, a Lowell resident who is also one of the firm’s clients. “In one situation, Mike [Tucci] called me, saying that a woman client wanted to sell everything. I gave him my thoughts on what might be driving her decision.”

“I asked this client what she really wanted to do,” Tucci said. “She said she’d just like to do something. So, some of her money – about 10 percent of her portfolio – was moved to other buckets.”

In another case, a man had to come to grips with his mother’s death, Birke said. “He was in line to inherit a lot of money, which was very unsettling to him. He wanted his mother alive, not the money. I told him his feelings were normal, given the circumstances. He soon began to feel less guilty and less burdened by accepting his inheritance.”

The firm also has a stable of some 50 consultants in other disciplines to whom clients can be referred as needed. Consultants’ specialties include estate planning, accounting, and tax preparation.

One of the consultants is Susan Skelley, a partner of the Boston law firm of Lourie & Cutler. “Lexington Wealth Management will often call me about clients of theirs who need help with estate planning,” she said. “And I’ll sometimes refer to them individuals who need investment advice.”

What makes the Lexington firm different from others that are custodians for individuals’ investments, Skelley said, is that “Mike Tucci and Kristine Porcaro hold successful investment reviews with clients because they are attuned to issues, such as emotions,” that can affect a client’s viewpoints and decisions.