Christopher Aitken’s path to becoming a managing director at UBS began a little over a decade ago when he received a call from a recruiter about a wealth management job at Merrill Lynch.
At the time, Aitken was mulling his exit from the industry. The firm he was working for, Stanford Financial Group, was accused of operating an $8 billion Ponzi scheme. He was caught in the crossfire as an institutional consultant advising large foundations and endowments. A move to Merrill Lynch’s wealth management group would mean working with individual high-net-worth investors. The switch also meant he would move from Baltimore, Maryland, where he had spent his whole life, to Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
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He decided to take the chance and make the move. Eight years later he joined UBS in May 2017 in what he describes as a “cultural move.”
The 62-year-old describes his typical client as either a retired business owner or an executive at a corporation, often with high financial IQ who gravitate towards Aitken for his expertise.
“I am used to dealing with sophisticated clients who have managed money and as a result can connect with them on deep portfolio details,” Aitken says. “Clients like that institutional approach, and I try to bring my institutional experience to the individual.”
This is far from the first career change in Aitken’s life. He has had varying jobs throughout from a paper route growing up to being a professional motor cross racer in his teenage years. For the last three years he’s been managing director at Aitken and Associates at UBS Private Wealth Management.
Aitken has long had an interest in financial markets. He bought his first stock (Disney) at 10-years-old with his father, a NASA scientist. He would earn his bachelor’s degree in accounting at the University of Maryland in 1983 and landed a job in the financial services world as an accountant in Washington, D.C. for PwC.
He eventually left the accounting world and ended up with Shearson/American Express doing institutional consulting. He left in 2008 when it was part of Citi Smith Barney to join Stanford Financial Group
At UBS, he says his team tries to “act as a family office for clients,” offering financial planning, private banking, investment advice and, as he describes it, acting as a friend and confidante. Some of the more concierge services the team offers include help with travel and credit card rewards, “in a limited scope,” according to Aitken.
He credits referrals for most of his new business and says the team has clients nationwide. Despite having a brick and mortar presence in north Florida, the team has an extensive client network in the Vail Valley where Aitken, and two-thirds of his 45 clients, own homes.
The team has clients with an average net worth between $50 and $75 million, according to Aitken. Most clients assets are invested with 80% equities and 20% in fixed income—mostly municipal bonds. The team also has client assets managed outside in either real estate or private markets.
Aitken and his investment team currently have their eyes on biotechnology and other technology stocks. They also look to balance out risk with a large portion of assets in dividend growth strategies in high quality stocks with good earnings and increasing dividends, such as Microsoft, American Express, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, or 3M.
Aitken maintains a positive outlook on the economy citing the recent trade war progress, the Federal Reserve lowering interest rates, and anticipation that most election scenarios will not deter continued growth. However, the non-stop news environment will continue to be a challenge as the president’s tweets and large geopolitical events can affect markets very quickly. In the face of that uncertainty, however, Aitken says he tries to emphasize rational decision-making in an irrational environment.