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    If you’re the nervous type, you might want for your financial advisor somebody calm, wise, and seasoned—somebody like Robert Fragasso.

    Now celebrating 50 years in the business, the widely respected Fragasso pins his financial expertise on continually studying a scholar’s range of factors in economics, banking, politics, real estate, demographics, and lifestyle.

    Living in the South Hills suburbs but basing his firm in downtown Pittsburgh, plus maintaining several suburban field offices, he has direct connections to many different regional perspectives and circumstances and the lives of people associated with them.

    “The art of this business, if there is one, is listening,” Fragasso tells The Strip! “We are an independent, employee-owned and primarily fee-based investment management and financial planning firm with $2.1 billion under management and nonadvisory assets combined.

    “We serve individuals, families, business owners, institutions, and nonprofit organizations. Every decision we make is guided by our clients. We have a vested interest in seeing our clients’ assets grow. With no internal or proprietary products, our team can make every recommendation with the client’s best interest in mind. This unbiased approach allows us to act as a neutral party seeking investments that are custom-tailored while adhering to a fiduciary standard without the distraction of a provider’s preferred list.”

    The firm’s services include business succession planning, charitable and family gifting strategies, education funding, employer-sponsored retirement plans, estate planning, fiduciary partnership, holistic financial planning, investment management, income-tax-reduction strategies, life insurance, long-term-care cost analysis, nonprofit and institutional investment management, personal retirement planning, and stock options management.

    Fragasso grew all of that beginning in 1972, when after graduating from Duquesne University he entered the field as a junior executive in one of Pittsburgh’s traditional so-called “wirehouse” firms. Learning quickly and rising rapidly through the corporate ranks in the hectic era of mergers and acquisitions that characterized the investment business from the 1970s to 1990s, he became a senior vice president at the giant Morgan Stanley.

    Growing gradually disenchanted with the big houses’ way of doing product-based, commission-driven business, he decided to find his own way in his own company by offering fee-for-service advising to carefully selected and more sophisticated investors.

    With a small cadre of professionals—but never any formal partners—he launched Robert Fragasso Associates, later renamed The Fragasso Group, as an independent broker-dealer and registered investment advisor firm in 1996, with offices in the Koppers Building.

    Says Fragasso, “I came to see that investment advisors should not work for the product companies; instead, they should be representing the investors. Counseling, not selling.” He also decided that his clients’ interests would be better served by their advisors being salaried, not commission motivated.

    In 26 years, that enterprise has grown to four dozen employees, handsome central offices at 610 Smithfield Street, and several suburban field offices. The firm now formally is named Fragasso Financial Advisors, Inc.

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    The transition from employee to proprietor was a tricky one—so much so that he wrote a book about it, Starting Your Own Practice: The Independence Guide for Investment Advisors, Attorneys, CPAs, and Other Professional Service Providers, now in its second edition.

    The natural style of Fragasso’s business is conversational—listening and responding. Traditionally, that has occurred in face-to-face sit-downs, but Covid-19 disruptions since March 2020 have changed things. Some of their 2,000-plus clients still are concerned about traveling to meetings and gathering in traditional settings. Fragasso’s team needed to be versatile and has quickly become expert in e-communications and video-meeting techniques to meet those concerns.

    Still, a presence Downtown is essential, in Fragasso’s view, and the firm is headquartered in the heart of the city. Having been in town for 50 years, Fragasso is a student of city trends and said he believes the central business district is recovering, if slowly, “as well as can be expected,” given the recent upheaval in travel, staffing, work practices, and office occupancy.

    “But let’s be honest,” he says, “there is a substantial concern about homeless and criminal elements, which—let me emphasize—usually are two separate things.”

    He’s laudatory of recent city and county government initiatives to ease the burdens of the homeless with steadily improving shelter, hygiene, and nutrition programs. The criminal aspects, he says, require “inspired” policing and first-responder thinking and techniques.

    That observation is in step with Fragasso’s special concern for military veterans, whose mental health and housing circumstances are just beginning to be understood and forthrightly addressed. A Vietnam-era U.S. Marine himself, he’s deeply embedded in regional veterans causes and organizations, having been given the Globe and Anchor Award from the Marine Corps Scholarship Fund.

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    Many are surprised to learn that this shrewd businessman has a huge soft spot for animal welfare. His corporate biography states: “Bob may be best known for his tireless commitment to animal welfare in the region, serving as the treasurer for Animal Friends. He began the Animal Friends for Veterans program where trained emotional companion dogs are provided at no cost to veterans encountering physical and emotional challenges.”

    The son of immigrant parents—a tailor and a seamstress—Fragasso grew up in the inner city of Pittsburgh. His love for investment management began early when, he admits, he wonkishly saved his earnings from his paper route to purchase mutual funds, which he later used to buy his first home. Widely published in trade media, he frequently is asked to comment on investment trends by regional and national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, as well as for TV and radio.

    Fragasso serves on the board of the Pennsylvania Economy League of Southwestern Pennsylvania, on the Charles Schwab Advisor Services Advisory Board, and on the Advisory Board of Duquesne University’s School of Business. He is a guest lecturer for Duquesne University’s Graduate School of Business and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Western Pennsylvania Region, where he’s also a graduate of the FBI Citizens Academy.

    William McCloskey is a Pittsburgh-based writer, editor, and historian. Contact him at pghnews.351@gmail.com.