When Hilary Giles ’94 moved from Hong Kong to the Silicon Valley in 1998, she fielded questions from taxi drivers about which stocks in the tech market were hot. One dot-com success after another had led scores of people to seek investment advice.
The economic downturn may have superseded the tech bubble, but Giles says that it is another opportune time for people to rethink their financial portfolios. “The economic crisis has presented a real opportunity for clients to reassess their risk tolerance and income needs — what leverage they want in terms of their portfolio and personal situation,” she says.
A private wealth adviser with Merrill Lynch’s Private Banking and Investment Group in Menlo Park, Calif., Giles and her business partner, Suzanne Killea, manage assets of more than $1 billion. Last summer, they were named among Barron’s “Top 100 Women Financial Advisors.” “Like the Columbia MBA, the Barron’s list is a recognized standard of credibility in our industry,” Giles says. “Financial services is a very crowded industry that can be confusing for the consumer. Our goal is to increase understanding and help our clients make informed decisions.”
Giles began her career in venture and private equity at Morgan Stanley and then migrated to institutional fixed income, eventually managing an Asian fixed-income portfolio for Prudential in Hong Kong. When Giles relocated to the Silicon Valley, she discovered how much she enjoyed private client work. “That was probably the biggest surprise of my career,” Giles says. “It’s wonderful working with people as they go through various stages in life.”
In addition to advising a number of serial entrepreneurs, Giles works with many young clients who are experiencing first-time wealth — those who go from having a small 401(K) and thinking about buying a house to leveraging significant resources. “We educate them on estate and tax issues, gifting and risk management,” Giles says.
What Giles calls “blended value investing” — the combination of social good with investment returns — has become a niche for her and Killea. “We help people align their values with their investments,” Giles says, “so that they can support the causes and institutions they care most about.”