$22 Billion Florida Advisor Gave Up The Art World For Wall Street

Name: Deborah Montaperto

Firm: Morgan Stanley
Private Wealth Management

Location: Palm Beach, FL

Team Assets (Custodied): $22.7 billion

Forbes Rankings: America’s Top Wealth Advisors, Best-in-State Wealth Advisors, Best-in-State Wealth Management Teams, America’s Top Women Wealth Advisors, Top Women Wealth Advisors Best-in-State, America’s Top Wealth Management Teams: Private Wealth

Background: Deborah Montaperto grew up outside of Philadelphia and studied art history and literature while at Tufts University. Montaperto then moved to New York and managed an art gallery but was struggling to make a living, so she decided to enroll in Katharine Gibbs secretarial school. In 1984, Montaperto started as a secretary at broker firm Dean Witter, and eventually moved up in the industry becoming a managing director in Citigroup’s investment banking division in 1997. Montaperto lost her job during the financial crisis in 2008, but shortly after was recruited as a partner of the Polk Wealth Management Group at Morgan Stanley, where she has worked since.

Edge: Montaperto and her team—consisting of 38 people across four cities—work with a broad range of clients, emphasizing a multigenerational approach to her wealthy clients. Liability management is a particular focus, knowing what could be keeping her clients up at night. “When a client is buying a new car for example, we want them to call us for insurance or for something like their kid getting his or her first mortgage,” she says. “At a certain level of wealth, clients are more concerned about the impact of the wealth: How will they give the money away or leave it in a way that is productive for their children?” That means paying special attention to working with clients’ children, including hosting them at a yearly next-gen conference which she started just over a decade ago.

Investment Philosophy/Strategy: Montaperto and her team start by focusing on clients’ risk tolerance to then determine proper allocation to different asset classes. “There’s a bit of back and forth at first to see how they would feel in different situations and to narrow down how much risk they want to live with,” she says. In terms of positioning client portfolios, she and her team don’t have any major U.S. equity sector tilts at the moment, though they are looking to eventually add more cyclical exposure. “On the fixed income side, we extended our duration last year and opportunistically added high yield when spreads were attractive, though that is now less the case today,” says Montaperto. She also likes to use alternative investments to diversify client portfolios and tends to be opportunistic in areas like private equity for example. “When it comes to private market investments, you can get real outperformance for your illiquidity,” she says, adding that her team spends a lot of time meeting with funds.

Investment Outlook: “The feeling now is yes on rate cuts but perhaps not quite as soon as we all think, especially given the latest inflation numbers,” she says. While most of her clients are overweight to U.S. equities, some also have exposure to emerging markets like India, Mexico, Brazil or China. The one exception to developed markets abroad is Japan: The team has been adding Japanese equity to some client portfolios, Montaperto says, as markets there currently look attractive.

Biggest Challenge: “It obviously wasn’t that simple to be a woman on Wall Street when I first started my career, but I thrived on the challenge by believing in myself and being tenacious even when there weren’t necessarily people who looked like me in leadership at the time,” says Montaperto. “Don’t go into a boxing ring if you don’t want to get punched.”

Best Advice: “The best advice I’ve ever gotten was to specialize in something—and that applies to anybody,” she says, adding, “you could be the youngest person on a team but if you’re the expert in something, you will be valuable.”

Off The Clock: An avid beach goer, Montaperto splits her time between Palm Beach and New York. She loves to travel—with frequent visits to London, for instance—and has spent time living in Italy. Montaperto is also still in touch with her roots in the art world as an active member of institutions like the National Arts Club, while representing Morgan Stanley. “At this point in my career, I kind of get to come back to that,” she says.

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