Financial advisor David Stevens and his wife Natalia met 20 years ago, when she had just returned after college to Omaha, Nebraska, and they were both working at TD Ameritrade.
“I was impressed because one of the first questions he asked me was, ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years?'” Natalia Stevens said in an email. “I thought, ‘who asks that?!’ but I knew there was something unique about him right then because guys my age weren’t asking that question! I suppose he was probably equally impressed that I had an answer right away! He said he always loved that I had a big dream, which is one of the qualities I love about him. We both do, which l suppose is why we took the leap of faith to start a firm. We believe in living a life so that you leave a legacy that outlives you.”
She and David Stevens have seen many milestones together, including the launch three years ago of Stevens Capital Partners, a registered investment advisory firm. Having started at zero, the firm has now reached $240 million in client assets, well on its way toward David Stevens’ goal of $1 billion by 2026.
Stevens’ career began in college at TD Ameritrade, where he became one of the firm’s top advisors, and eventually led him to open the independent firm and build the advisory practice based on his own vision. His path offers key practice management and growth lessons for aspiring and emerging professionals in an industry confronting generational succession challenges, and his approach to client service and mentorship has earned the respect of his colleagues and some of the biggest names in wealth management. Everything ties back to what Stevens, 44, learned growing up and in his first retail-facing role answering clients’ questions and referring them to Ameritrade’s branches.
“I had a knack for listening extremely well to what clients needed and then connecting them with the right solution. That was my gift,” Stevens said. “I really believe in going deep. I wasn’t interested in sales at all. I would go very deep in these conversations. I was having really deep, meaningful conversations with clients, and that’s what drove me up naturally.”
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Stevens Capital currently has seven employees, and it’s seeking to hire another certified financial planner, an operations representative and a paraplanner as part of the ongoing expansion. The firm is on pace to add more than $50 million in client assets for the second straight year in 2023 ahead of potential recruiting and acquisitions of advisory teams that embody what David calls his “C’s”: character, caring, credentials, competence, confidence and conviction.
The structure and rigor of Stevens’ advice has drawn praise from ex-Ameritrade CEO and current Charles Schwab Advisor Services Managing Director Tom Bradley, as well as Peter Mallouk, the CEO of Creative Planning.
“Early in my career, I personally used to cover the Omaha TD Ameritrade branch, and got to know Dave,” Mallouk said in an email. “I found him to be quick to develop a rapport with a client. He’s a natural at connecting and very sharp.”
Bradley also came to know him at Ameritrade, where Stevens won awards such as investment consultant of the year and founded a group of advisors and other employees acting as a sounding board for ideas for the firm’s top executives.
“David has always had that powerful combination of strong technical expertise in finance, with the natural ability to build and maintain client relationships that stand the test of time,” Bradley said in a statement. “From my viewpoint, I believe this has propelled his success from his earliest days in this industry.”
Dating back to his time at Ameritrade, Stevens has shared the techniques with other advisors that have fueled his rise in an industry in which only 2% of CFPs are Black and no retail-facing RIA owned by African Americans has ever topped $1 billion in client assets. Stevens speaks with at least two advisors and other industry professionals every day as a life coach, and he frequently acted as a mentor when he was at Ameritrade. Earlier in his career, Stevens got used to prospective customers who were “just shocked” to learn upon visiting the Omaha branch that the advisor they had spoken to on the phone was Black.
“This would happen at least once every other week,” Stevens said. “I’ve had more good experiences than negative, but I have had negative experiences.”
His protégés come from all backgrounds, although the onetime head of Ameritrade’s branches and retail sales, David Lynch, recalled how Stevens had “without hesitation” taken him up on the request to help guide newly hired Black employees. Lynch, who’s Black as well, didn’t “have anyone that looked like me that I could confide in” when he started in the industry in 1987, he said in an interview.
“He was also very comfortable picking up the phone and giving me a call. He was the boots on the ground letting me know how people felt about certain things,” Lynch said. “They’ll listen to him more than they’ll listen to me or their branch manager, because David was a superstar advisor. They knew that and he had their ear.”
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Path into the profession
Stevens grew up south of Omaha in nearby Bellevue, where his Vietnam War veteran father Ed was an officer at Offutt Air Force Base and his mother Faye was a piano teacher. He described the family’s home as one that was loving but strict. Before Stevens would go outside to play with the other children, he would need to read a few pages out of the family’s encyclopedia and report back to his mother on the knowledge he had gained from the books.
“Dad would pay me $5 for every book I would read,” Stevens said. “That was like their motivator. Then they had a ‘negative jar.’ You had to put a quarter in the negative jar every time you said something negative. That really shaped me, just having a positive mental attitude from the time I was 5 years old. Being an avid reader was something that was a requirement in our household.”
While in college at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, one summer Stevens took a job at Ameritrade; upon graduation, he returned to the firm, where he worked in the corporate office in the operations and institutional divisions. In 2008, he took a position speaking directly to customers for the first time. He earned his Series 7 and 66 licenses in 2009 and proved so adept that the Omaha branch offered him a position as a broker the following year.
“I turned it down because I didn’t have the confidence to do it,” Stevens said. “I went back to my existing role where I was referring clients over to the branch but I was doing 90% of the work.”
In 2011, Stevens found himself getting fed up with turning clients over to brokers he saw “as sales guys” who didn’t care as much for the clients and believing in the advice of his wife Natalia, who had urged him to move to the new position.
“It was a big leap of faith for him to make that move, but I had no doubt at all that David would be successful,” Natalia said. “I knew that it was a challenge he would thrive in, and that the role would be fulfilling for him. Because of his genuine care for people, I knew it was a perfect fit and wholeheartedly supported his decision.”
Almost immediately, Stevens began to thrive in the new gig. He “was always in the top 10 nationally in terms of the various metrics that we tracked,” Lynch recalled.
“I knew David was going to do great things,” Lynch said. “Selfishly, I would have loved to have him on my leadership team.”
Other advisors noticed the “great level of preparation” taken by Stevens prior to meetings with clients, according to Paul West, a managing partner with Omaha-based Carson Wealth who shared some clients with him starting in 2017. In his office before the sessions with clients, Stevens would go over the focus of the discussions and “thinking through what would be the absolute best solution for his clients,” West said. Once inside the conference room with the customers, Stevens displayed “an astute ability to recognize” the level of details and information that was comfortable to them, he said.
“He does a good job of, I’ll call it, reading the room. All advisors don’t have that. I think that’s why people like him and trust him,” West said. “We get together and have coffees and share ideas and best practices. I think that’s important, not just getting stuck in your traditional methods but trying to learn. He’s also found some people who are willing to share ideas and best practices. He’s invested in that.”
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While at Ameritrade, Stevens was gleaning how major RIAs like West’s firm, Creative Planning, Mercer Advisors and the Foster Group spoke with prospective customers as part of the process of the firm’s custodial referral program. That experience over as many as 300 meetings shaped his own advisory practice and ability to get existing clients to recommend his services to their friends and family, Stevens said.
“I had a front row seat to the processes and procedures of many, many large multibillion-dollar RIA firms, and so what I’ve done is just taken the best from each one of those firms that I’ve learned to establish what we’re going to do,” he said.
Starting the RIA
After leaving Ameritrade for a brief stint with another RIA, Stevens launched his own firm in November 2020. Natalia is the firm’s operations director, making the couple part of the group of spouses who work together in the industry.
“Initially, I came alongside David to be more than just an emotional support in his decision to start the firm,” she said. “We have always done things together, so I saw the opportunity to use my skills and background in operations to tangibly support him in the firm as he was getting things started. As a couple, we love building together, so, as the dream for the firm grows, it becomes more evident to me that continuing alongside him in SCP to make a lasting impact is the natural choice. My trust in David as a visionary leader is why I choose to support and follow his dream and I’m thrilled to be involved.”
Their RIA uses some different methods outside of the traditional planning playbook with clients. For one, Stevens’ team seeks “to make sure that clients are passionate about something that keeps them going,” so he brings that question to their review meetings and suggests potential volunteer opportunities, he noted. In estate planning, besides tracking the clients’ assets, he asks them to name their most important intangible assets and, in a new recent wrinkle, to record videos in which they share “the five to 10 characteristics in their kids that they’re so proud of” for posterity, he said.
In addition, the firm donates 10% of its net profits each year to charity. While Stevens said he doesn’t know if he would call himself “religious,” he noted that faith has played a big role in his career.
“This business is about character, No. 1,” Stevens said. “My faith has really been my true north of treating people with honor and respect, regardless of how much money they have, regardless of what their circumstances are, doing the very best for their families, understanding that generosity should be a way of life when it comes to giving back. That’s what I was taught growing up, that you should be generous.”