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As I write this letter, I reflect on how radically different 2020 has been compared to what was expected. The beginning of the new decade brought hopes of great expansion, new opportunities, creative innovation, and more. However, the advent of this generational health crisis has threatened our peoples’ health and livelihood, and the world’s economies and its resolution are the central agenda item for our Governments, our people and our businesses.
First and foremost, I applaud the medical professionals, first responders, and essential workers who have put themselves on the front line doing what they do, sacrificing time with their families, and exhibiting immense bravery and tireless work ethic during the coronavirus pandemic. Our unwavering support is with those whose daily lives have been significantly impacted and we are grateful for their dedication and perseverance during this uncertain time.
I’m so proud of and commend the nearly 400 Equity Trust Company associates for their commitment to our mission which has our clients as its fundamental tenet. I would specifically like to thank our management team for their leadership during these unforeseen circumstances. Without our Company functioning as a cohesive unit, we would not succeed. This concept rings true now, possibly more than ever.
I am also ever so grateful for our customers, who are the most creative, intelligent, and resilient investors I have ever met. It is obvious to me from watching the daily activity and interactions, that you too are weathering the storm and finding the silver linings. Your determination to remain opportunistic is admirable. You make us proud to do what we do, and we appreciate the level of trust each of you instills in us as we work together during this time.
As mentioned, this was expected to be a year of promise, and as the leader of Equity Trust Company, I can assure you, this will still be the case. Great challenges present great opportunities and overcoming these challenges will result in new paradigms that will deliver significant new capabilities. We are embracing the opportunity. The Company has taken great measures and will continue to do so to support our clients, our associates, and our communities, as we have since our company was founded over 45 years ago.
In my first year as Chief Executive Officer of Equity Trust, I’ve been impressed time and time again by our ability to remain agile, adaptable, and most importantly, innovative, regardless of circumstances. We provide unrivaled expertise and service to assist our clients, further developing and pioneering the alternative investing self-directed landscape.
Equity Trust Company has endured market changes and economic crises in the past, and this time will be no different. We are the same strong, dependable custodian we always have been and always will be.
For many firms, the given circumstance this crisis presents is the first rapid and drastic change they have experienced. This is not the time for a company to determine its value system for decision making, operating procedure, nor business continuity plan.
While this may be Equity Trust Company’s first pandemic, I can assure you this is not our first crisis nor period of uncertainty. We are here for our clients, we are here for our associates, and we are here for our communities. This has not and never will change.
Equity Trust Company has survived recessions and economic downturns in the past, and we will continue to lean on our strength and stability to carry us through this pandemic crisis and the impact it is having on our economy. These situations may seem undesirable for a financial firm, but in fact, they often present opportunities for positive transformation and we are embracing this opportunity. [i]
A great example was when Equity Trust Company continued to grow through the 2008 recession, and in 2009, Sterling Trust Company was acquired, and our Institutional business was established. Our Institutional business provides financial professionals such as RIAs, broker-dealers, investment sponsors, and precious metals dealers a multi-asset solution that includes custody of traditional and alternative assets.
Mr. Richard Desich, Sr. started what would become Equity Trust Company in 1974*, the same year the ERISA Act was passed. The foundation of what would become our firm began over 45 years ago when individual retirement accounts were first established.
Not only has Equity Trust Company continued to develop as a firm throughout the past 45 years, but we have also grown our expertise by recruiting top talent to serve our clients in a variety of ways. Of our nearly 400 employees, 38 percent have been with our company for over 5 years. Our Company’s workforce consists of a combination of experienced and new individuals, creative thinkers, and experts, who continue to innovate and improve.
We have departments and teams trained in specific areas such as real estate, precious metals, small business accounts, onboarding for new clients, a CARE Team for unique customer situations, and countless other departments trained to handle every situation. When a client calls Equity Trust, a specialized team member will be there to help. The hardworking people who are associates of the Company don’t just do their jobs every day, they do their jobs well to better serve our clients.
When I think about the overall growth of Equity Trust Company, I can attribute a great deal of it to the associates who go above and beyond for our clients. I attribute it to our managers and leadership team who constantly work to reach business objectives and goals. Our overall entrepreneurial spirit is a differentiator. We have the greatest amount of industry experience, as the longest-tenured self-directed IRA custodian, but what I really attribute our growth to is the constant mindset that we will never stop innovating and thinking outside the confines of our walls to help our clients be successful with their investments.
Our clients reflect this same entrepreneurial, innovative spirit. Our clients transact unique investments with their retirement accounts, Health Savings Accounts, and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts. Trusting a company with your financial savings is not a spontaneous, quick decision. The strength of our franchise and the experience we have gained as a pioneer in our industry sets us apart.
When we look at Equity Trust Company’s growth over the past decade, we went from holding $8 Billion in IRA assets in 2010 to $28.7 Billion in IRA assets in 2020. We are the top custodian for real estate investors; we have bought, sold, and funded over 200,000 properties. We are the top custodian in terms of experience, knowledge, and speed to close transactions. Equity Trust processes over 1.2 million transactions annually, which is 3,500 transactions daily.
If we look at the self-directed IRA industry, Equity Trust Company is the firm that pioneered the self-directed IRA market and we have maintained this singular focus more than any other custodian. Throughout the years, there have been numerous acquisitions in our industry, and Equity Trust Company is one of the only custodians to maintain consistent ownership and remain focused on self-directed IRAs.
Mr. Richard Desich, Sr., Mr. Richard Desich, Jr., and Mr. Jeffery Desich are innovators in our industry and possess a driving desire to continue in that tradition. Their ever-growing passion for self-directed IRAs as a whole provides our firm with the essential leadership, determination, and capital to continually develop and further grow this particular space.
Our commitment to clients always is and remains our top priority. The core values of our company were established with our clients at the forefront of each of them. While the values themselves have adapted and changed throughout the past 45 years, this has not changed. We have a client-centric workforce and company, from the leadership level and cascaded throughout.
Our mission is to inspire, educate, and support investors to achieve more. It is our core duty to assist investors in fulfilling their retirement goals, through education, innovation, and a commitment to understanding their individual needs.
In this time of uncertainty in our country, I commend the businesses and companies who have stepped up to help manufacture ventilators, medical masks, and other supplies. At Equity Trust Company, we’re using our firm’s strengths and abilities to contribute in our own way; helping our clients build their wealth. It’s our mission.
In a recent company-wide address, I challenged all associates in the Company to ask themselves every day, “What can I do to help our clients?” and then do it.
We have carried this mentality in the past and it has led to innovative technology and more satisfied clients. In 2012, we created myEQUITY, the industry’s first online account management platform for our clients, and in 2018 it was overhauled and completely revolutionized. myEQUITY provides investors with a secure platform to access their accounts around the clock, initiate transactions, complete bill pays, and more. Improving and developing myEQUITY is always an overarching objective of ours. It is constantly evolving to give our clients the best experience possible.
Within myEQUITY, our team recently developed a Mutual Funds Wizard, allowing clients to allocate cash into mutual funds. Not only can our clients invest in alternatives such as real estate, but they can also invest in Mutual Funds, digitally. This capability has served our clients well in these volatile markets as the wizard enables clients to seamlessly move capital between public and private market investments. We have seen an increase in private to public markets volume of 221 percent from the end of February and throughout March.
We are constantly innovating and investing in new technology and digital solutions to improve the investing experience for our clients. We created a Digital Asset Platform to specifically allow our clients to invest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin securely, online, with their retirement account. Most recently, we launched our Online Payment Center, which was a feature our clients requested to seamlessly receive property rental and note payments directly to their accounts.
myEQUITY houses our client education, providing easy-to-access information to educate clients on our systems, self-directed IRAs, rules and regulations, and more.
We believe part of our mission is to provide superior education to our clients. Education is at our core. Over the past five years, we’ve hosted or spoken at over 700 educational events and seminars as another way to serve our clients. We give investors powerful tools to build their wealth, in addition to educating them on the possibilities and the options available to utilize self-directed accounts. While doing so requires an entrepreneurial attitude, we recognize the importance of educating our clients to help them succeed, leading to the success of Equity Trust Company.
The physical and mental wellbeing of our associates is absolutely crucial to our firm’s overall success, and I am personally committed to maintaining a healthy workforce. Equity Trust Company’s management facilitates regular check-ins with their teams, often at an individual level, to ensure our team members are healthy, comfortable, maintaining productivity, and utilizing additional resources whenever necessary.
As a performance-based culture, we monitor and measure our associates’ objectives and successes regularly, which creates accountability and incentivizes associates to remain engaged and productive. Especially during this time, a transparent relationship between associates and managers is necessary and expected.
Even before the current crisis, we had begun educating our employees on symptoms and signs of stress and have recently provided a free membership to Headspace, a meditation application for smartphones. We offer our associates an onsite gym with fitness classes, volunteer time off, massages, and a café with a wide variety of food and beverage options. Medical, dental and vision insurance, pet insurance, and other benefits are included in our total rewards package.
The importance of keeping our employees healthy during this time includes 88 percent of our workforce operating remotely. Throughout this process our executives and management, as well as all associates, have demonstrated the ability to adapt quickly, work effectively, and continue to meet – and often times exceed – industry standards. All while continuing to think creatively and embody the values of Equity Trust Company.
While the Company in its entirety is working diligently during this time, our Operations, Customer Service, and Investments teams are even outperforming their 2019 metrics in terms of Grade of Service and Calls Presented, as well as other areas. Regardless of current situations, our teams have demonstrated a firm commitment to providing superior service for our clients.
One of our core values is centered around the concept of learning and growing as an individual, to, therefore, better serve our clients and communities. We offer our employees online courses to increase their skill set, including business courses on building your network, effective communication practices, project planning, customer service skills, and more.
I’ll never forget one of the first times I heard Equity Trust Company owner and founder Mr. Richard Desich, Sr., speak to a room of associates this past year. He started a statement, “If there is one thing I want everyone in here to do…” and I assumed what was coming next was going to be “work hard,” or “understand our business,” or something along those lines. But what he said was “read something new every day.” I realized then how much this Company embodies education, not only for our clients but for our associates.
There are many aspects of Equity Trust Company that I find unique. When I explain what Equity Trust Company does, I am always quick to point out that, in addition to investing in what they want, our clients can invest in traditional and private markets under the same Company roof. With the “traditional” investment possibilities added by ETC Brokerage Services, our investors don’t have to decide on one type of investment; they have the freedom to diversify.
Another noteworthy aspect of Equity Trust Company is the amazing investments our clients make to grow their wealth, whether it be for their grandchild’s education, their future healthcare expenses, or their general retirement savings. Our clients have the capabilities to deploy capital across the United States, and beyond, often helping families, growing communities, allowing businesses to start and grow, and much more. Over the past ten years, our clients have deployed over $18.7 Billion in capital.
Some of this capital has helped families keep their homes through note investing, allowed a drug rehabilitation agency to build a new facility, turned around a local neighborhood by rehabbing retail space, provided affordable housing for homeless veterans, grew a local car dealership by financing a new parking lot, and so much more…all while the investor is building their own personal wealth.
This is truly a one-of-a-kind industry. We provide individuals the vehicles to help one another while helping themselves, and that is extremely powerful. It separates us from our competition, and it separates us from traditional custodians. Our investors know what they’re investing in and we help them succeed by enabling them to do so, educating them, and assisting them throughout the process.
While our clients have the capability to deploy capital to foster and grow their communities, we as a firm do as well. Equity Trust Company and the Desich family has always emphasized the importance of philanthropic efforts for local nonprofits and organizations. Our overarching statement that accompanies our core values is “To better serve our clients and our communities, we will…”
Our commitment to our communities runs as deep as our commitment to our clients. Our internal employee-led GIVE Committee’s purpose is to strengthen our community and improve lives through corporate volunteerism. The committee organizes and promotes various volunteer and donation-based opportunities throughout the year to benefit local charities and organizations of choice.
Many local organizations benefit from Equity Trust Company’s GIVE Committee efforts. Some of them include Westlake Community Services, Boys and Girls Clubs of Lorain County, Susan G. Komen Northeast Ohio, and others.
In addition to donations and events, we offer our associates numerous volunteer opportunities throughout the year and paid volunteer time off to participate. Some of these volunteer opportunities include visiting local animal shelters and nature centers, cleaning up litter around our Adopt-a-Highway space, and more.
Our volunteerism and community impact are another reason I am so proud of Equity Trust Company as a whole and I’m thankful the Desich family founded our company with a strong value system which includes serving others in our communities.
With difficult challenges come great opportunities to grow and strengthen at an individual level, as a firm, and as a country. I believe in our associates, I believe in our leadership, I believe in Equity Trust Company, and I believe in The United States. We will be challenged throughout this time, but we will grow and become stronger.
It is an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to shed light on our firm’s strength and stability for our clients. Equity Trust Company gives our clients the power and capabilities to use their capital to rebuild and reshape the landscape of our country in the future. And it is in our power to support them, partner with them, and enable them to do so, while they continue to build their future wealth and achieve more, whatever that means for them.
Chief Executive Officer