TCA Sponsor Feature: Ascent Private Capital Management

Jonathan Miles (4th from right) and the Ascent team


Tell us about Ascent, what services can you provide that TCA members would benefit from?

Ascent was set up by U.S. Bank in 2011 to help our largest clients manage the sustainability of family wealth. We’re designed to solve for sustaining family wealth for multiple generations. A lot of times, wealthy families are subject to the “three generation rule” – shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations. We were established as a boutique within the bank to work with families, $75 million and up, to help them with their banking, investments, financial management, and ‘wealth sustainability services.’ Some of these are services offered by other boutique family-office-oriented firms on an à la carte basis, while our approach is to take a team approach and customize the engagement for each family. Whereas many other firms focus on offering individual services such as managing a portfolio or lending money, our focus is on serving as a family’s financial home, for current and future generations.

I’m part of a team focused on California and split my time between San Diego and Los Angeles. Most of our team is in San Diego while we also have people in Newport Beach and San Francisco. Virtually everything a client may need is provided by people on our team. Our team includes five managing directors who service every client as a team: Investments, Banking, CFO Services, Wealth Sustainability, Client Experience.  Even though a client may not have investments, I’m still involved to help add perspective on the economy and investments, and add context for other decisions. That’s probably one of the big differentiators for us, as we think about who our competitors are in the market. We don’t fly people in from New York or from Chicago; a lot of the expertise clients need is already on the team. In addition, there are additional investment, banking, wealth planning, charitable services, trust services, etc, at the national Ascent and U.S Bank level. We’re a boutique with the footprint of much larger organization. We work with individuals, families, family offices and family foundations, and non-profits in our local communities.

What unique skills and experience do you bring to the table for Ascent, and what value can you add for your clients?

My background is institutionally focused. Prior to Ascent I was in institutional consulting specializing in alternative investments. Most recently with Wilshire Associates in Los Angeles (national investment consulting firm) and prior to that I was at Mercer in Chicago (another consulting firm.) Prior to moving into advising other investors I was at a hedge fund for many years trading credit and option strategies. An institutional consulting background is very relevant for our clients. We think of our families as institutions because they need to think multi-generationally, just like a foundation or endowment, taking advantage of their scale and investment horizon versus the average individual investor. Not only do they need to think differently, there is the added complexity of taxes, potentially the distraction of still operating a business, issues of how best to transfer that business to the next generation, or even how to maximize the after-tax wealth of the next generation. We’re always looking for the most tax-efficient way to achieve these and other goals. Our team solves problems like these regularly.

From an investment perspective, I have a heavy alternatives background, as do many my investment peers across the firm. Investing in alternatives is an important part of many client portfolios given the variety of strategies and opportunity for higher returns. This is a big part of why I’m involved with TCA. TCA is startup venture capital, which is not a common thing for most retail investors. It’s more of an angel investor/institutional marketplace. That’s where my interest and desire to work with TCA comes from: confluence of my interest in alternatives, supporting entrepreneurs , and being a part of the San Diego start-up/venture ecosystem. I think I said this on the panel I did with Caitlin, is that being part of the ecosystem is very important for us and we want to support this community.

I moved to San Diego to join Ascent and become part of the San Diego community, joining and supporting TCA was something I advocated for with management. I’ve been here for two years, I moved for a lifestyle and career change. I like San Diego so much better than Los Angeles. I have two kids, they’re still in Los Angeles, and most of my free time is spent with them so my hobbies went on the backburner: my hobbies are being with them, doing what they want to do. I end up doing a lot of Lego model building and crafting. If you come to my house, it’s full of models and crafts my kids and I do together. I don’t miss L.A. all that much – but please don’t tell the Angelinos!

My specific interest in early stage investing is that I have a history of being entrepreneurial and prior to my decision to go into trading, I was president of my college’s Entrepreneurship Association and even started a couple of businesses. One of them was an idea for fundraising to help pay for the entrepreneurship association and other clubs. I had a marketing plan and support from other student organizations but the school had a contract with the bookstore on campus and they didn’t appreciate what I was doing, even though I was trying to help the organizations raise money.

After college I ended up going into investments, focused on trading and the markets. I went down that path because investors are accountable at the end of the day, the P&L, I either made money or didn’t. It’s similar to being an entrepreneur in that you have an idea, you execute on it, and it’s successful or not. In my mind it’s parallel because you’re taking control over the outcome of your life, not letting someone else decide. A successful entrepreneur, like a successful trader, has the skills to figure out how to make money. One reads the capital markets, the other reads commercial markets, both have a view on where their markets are going . Coming full circle to where we are today, when I heard about TCA I thought “I want to be a part of this.” I can’t necessarily be an entrepreneur – but I can make the most of the path I’m on by being part of the organization.  My entrepreneurial spirit led me to join Ascent to help build an office that had no AUM. I approached it as an entrepreneurial decision.