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Column: Heralded bay area broker was once telemarketer

Ami Forte, senior vice president and wealth adviser with Morgan Stanley, was named by Barron’s as one of the top female financial advisers in the country. She handles about $1-billion for clients with her varied expertise.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Ami Forte, senior vice president and wealth adviser with Morgan Stanley, was named by Barron’s as one of the top female financial advisers in the country. She handles about $1-billion for clients with her varied expertise.

You won't find Ami Forte on the government's "do-not-call" list. The Morgan Stanley broker chats up telemarketers instead of hanging up on them because it wasn't so long ago that she was one herself.

"It's a really tough job and I feel bad for them," she said. Forte broke into the brokerage business in 1994 making cold calls to strangers, trying to persuade them to buy municipal bonds. She turned out to be good at it. Fourteen years later she is managing about $1-billion for clients and has a $5-million minimum for new accounts.

For the past two years, Forte has been the only Tampa Bay broker to make either of Barron's two annual lists of top financial advisers. This year she's third on the financial newspaper's list of female advisers and 81st on its overall list.

The ranking is done by Winner's Circle, a Boca Raton consulting firm that considers assets under management, revenue production, supervisors' recommendations and regulatory records. The firm said it doesn't consider investment performance because advisers don't have audited results.

Forte, 50, works out of Morgan Stanley offices in St. Petersburg and Palm Harbor, where three computer monitors and a television screen tuned to business news compete for her attention. A pillow on an office chair proclaims, "I'm not bossy. I just have better ideas."

"I'm a little bit of a control freak," she acknowledged. "I don't do lunch. I'm very intense. I think lunch is a phenomenal waste of the business day." Her favorite sport is tennis "because you can play after dark. You can put in a full day of work and still play tennis."

Forte says hard work and a focus on client relationships have paid off for her.

"I've worked since I was 9," she said. She grew up working as a child model in New York, and the career paid her way through college. She was a fashion buyer for New York department stores, including Saks Fifth Avenue, until her now-ex-husband wanted to move to Florida. "If I hadn't moved here, I'd still be doing it," she said.

Forte says the brokerage business gave her a flexible schedule as a single mother, and she often brought her son, Evan, to the office on the weekends. Now 25 and married, he also works for Morgan Stanley in New York and is the father of Forte's two grandchildren.

What she calls a "grocery store epiphany" six years ago changed her approach to her business. She ran into a client in the store but failed to immediately recognize her. Forte decided it was time to pare down her client load from about 400 to what's now about 160 households that she could know better. Those with smaller accounts got handed off to younger brokers. She has three assistants.

Forte says she communicates with many of her clients daily and prefers phone to e-mail so "you can hear the nuances in people's voices." Her job, she said, is part investment adviser and part psychologist.

"You try to stay very well informed and you have to be a student of history," she said. "There will always be horrific events. You just have to be level headed and realize this too will pass."

Helen Huntley can be reached at hhuntley@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8230.

Column: Heralded bay area broker was once telemarketer 08/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 7, 2008 10:25am]
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