Pedroncelli is a fee-only advisor for the Sonoma, Calif., branch of First Tech Federal Credit Union, a large credit union with branches up and down the West Coast, and across the South as far east as Atlanta.
Sonoma, located among the sprawling vineyards at the northern end of San Francisco Bay, is not your typical town. It's home to many of the people who work in Silicon Valley's companies.
Pedroncelli comes to First Tech from a merger early last year when it joined forces with her employer at the time, Addison Avenue Credit Union. Addison, which is still the name of the wealth management unit of the combined credit union, had been the employee credit union for Hewlett-Packard Co., one of the early high-tech success stories that gave Silicon Valley its name. (Some branches of the credit union, including the one where Pedroncelli works, still carry the Addison name).
Addison Avenue Investment Services itself began in an office on the same street in Palo Alto, at the other end of San Francisco Bay, where HP founders Bill Hewlett and David Packard began their company in Packard's garage.
And even today, Pedroncelli says, most of her more than 500 clients are current or former HP employees, or employees of the HP spin-off Agilent.
"Ninety-five percent of my clients are from HP or Agilent, " says Pedroncelli. "I have engineers and I have regular production workers from HP too, because HP over the years did such an amazing job of giving stock options to their employees, and of teaching people to save - including their production people, many of whom have quite significant savings."
Having that kind of clientele can be a challenge, but it also often makes her job easier. "It's about 50/50," she says. "Some of them can be easier to explain things to, because I use a lot of technical analysis in my investment decisions, and they can understand it when I try to explain my approach. But others think they know it all."
She says, "My clients tend to have pretty good savings, so I don't have to worry about trying to build up their assets quickly. A lot of my time is spent finding out what their risk tolerance is," she says. "It usually turns out that it's a lot less than they thought. They tend as a group to have a lot less downside risk tolerance, particularly after they have retired."
In general, she says her professional clients are "focused on their careers," and so their attitude is that they want to hire an expert to manage their finances for them so that they can pursue their careers.
An advantage, she says, is that because she works in a credit union, "there is a built-in sense of trust. It's their credit union, and they trust it, so they trust me." About half her clients are referred to her by credit union staff, with the other half coming through client referrals (credit union staffers have incentives in place to refer members to her).
Pedroncelli, a Sonoma native, graduated with a degree in finance from Sonoma State University. She worked in commercial banking at several small banks and at Bank of America before going to work for a small broker-dealer called Legacy Financial Services, where her responsibility was going out and explaining 401(k) plans to employees. She moved to Addison Avenue five and a half years ago.
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She says at First Tech it can be hard to tell her clients' financial condition from their appearance.
"My wealthiest clients are often the ones you'd least guess were rich. They're frugal, and often come in for appointments wearing flip-flops and jeans. The ones who come in looking showy can turn out to be spenders who don't actually have much money to invest."
Her biggest clients are a couple who came in with a typical set of IRAs for her to invest in 2009. "I handled their investments for four or five years," she recalls, "and then they told me they had these three family trusts, set up by their grandparents back in Virginia, where they were being administered by Bank of America." They complained that they were unhappy with the fees they were paying and at having to deal with the trust administrator by phone. "They asked me if Addison Avenue could take over the trusts," she says.