MOORESVILLE – Originally from the frosty landscape of Milwaukee, Jim Stillman loves the laid-back, nautical life, and it shows in his business style.

Paintings of beach scenes and soothing blue walls greet clients who visit JDS Wealth Management, an office tucked away in a maze of hidden development down Talbert Road.

“We’re not running around with Armani suits and Rolex watches with that whole banker environment,” he said. “I guess we’re more down home, more real.”

Stillman’s company specializes in retirement planning, wealth accumulation, preservation and distribution strategies, estate and 401k planning and life insurance, among other things.  

JDS is a registered investment advisory firm, which means it has a fiduciary responsibility to its clients or is legally bound to put their best interests first.

“When we do things, it’s a lot more transparent. There’s a lot more conversation, and it’s a slower process,” Stillman said. “If we’re going to invite them into the family, we want to make sure we want them in the family, and they should do the same thing.”

Peter Hunt, senior wealth advisor at Willingdon Wealth Management in Huntersville, agrees that it’s important to be held to the fiduciary standard. Willingdon, also a registered investment advisory firm, is a standalone company that employs eight people who specialize in managing their clients’ investments.

“We don’t sell insurance or any commissioned products and don’t focus much on financial planning,” Hunt said. “Our biggest distinguishing factor is that everything is managed in-house in individual securities.”

Stillman, a registered investment advisor, focuses on spending quality time with each client and offers retirement planning seminars, even for young adults, at local restaurants.

He said the 10-year window leading up to retirement is often a critical, make-or-break period that determines whether people can live out their days in comfort.

“The biggest mistake retirees make when they approach retirement or get into retirement is they continue to take on way too much risk, stock market-type things.”

On the other hand, the 100 percent employee-owned Willingdon deals primarily in stocks and bonds.

“It’s hard to build a portfolio of individual securities with much less than say, $200,000,” Hunt said. “But we’ll really help anyone that needs help. I’ve had people come in with $10,000 and ask for my help. Obviously, we couldn’t do that all the time, but it hasn’t been overwhelming to the point where we couldn’t help these people who need it.”

Hunt said Willingdon cannot accept commission-based fees. Fidelity Investments, one of the largest investment custodians in the world, holds Willingdon clients’ assets although Willingdon staff choose investment opportunities for them.

Stillman focuses primarily on the aging population because they seek him out most often for financial aid.

“When you have 78 million baby boomers and you’ve got 10,000 to 12,000 people turning 65 every day for the next 17 or 18 years, it’s a huge market,” Stillman said. “These people need help. They’ve been fed so much bologna. Wall Street has brainwashed them to the point that they don’t know what to do anymore.”

Although the Great Recession of 2008 wrecked havoc on financial markets, Stillman said his clients didn’t lose much, if any, of their savings.

“We had people positioned properly so that even if they did lose money, it was just little part of the whole. We don’t play these games like big wirehouse broker dealers.” 

A self-described straight shooter, Stillman said he enjoys working with Lake Norman’s residents.

“The South Park area is a lot of inherited money; it’s been there forever. The attitudes of the people are a little bit different,” he said. “The people in the Mooresville and Lake Norman area, they have a good bit of wealth and they’ve been successful in all walks of life, but they’re a lot more humble and respectful.”

Hunt added that Lake Norman is a self-sustaining community, and his local clients don’t like to leave the area for services.

Stillman, and the team of advisors and institutional money managers backing him, focus on preserving assets and guaranteeing income in retirement.

Many of Stillman’s clients want him to manage all of their assets while they spend time traveling or visiting with their grandchildren.

“People come to us and say, ‘Here’s our life’s work. Take care of us.’ It’s a pretty humbling experience, and I couldn’t imagine letting them down,” he said. “I’d be a nervous wreck.”