Ray Ferrara, a Belleair resident for more than 40 years, makes a living out of helping people live better.
As founder and chief executive officer of ProVise Management Group, Ferrara’s work, and life, are both about helping people, and as a former Mr. Clearwater, his many philanthropic endeavors make an impact in the greater Tampa Bay area.
Ferrara says his outlook on work and play is “people first.”
“We measure our success by the number of clients we retain each year, not by our investment,” he says. “So far, we’ve been able to maintain our spirit of community, both in the office and with our clients, despite our growth.”
Ferrara founded ProVise in August of 1986 after more than a decade working in financial planning. He envisioned a small practice with one associate and a few staff, aligning with his lifestyle choice of keeping within a small community-driven business.
Although he resisted growth for a long time, Ferrara finally grew confident in the ability to grow, while still focusing on “one customer at a time.” In the last few decades, ProVise has expanded from a local financial planning and investment management firm, to now serving more than 1,300 families and clients scattered across about 34 states with two offices, the main office in Clearwater and the Tampa office, which opened in 2018.
“In an industry where the turnover rate with financial advisers is somewhere around 10% to 12%, per year of client turnover, ours has historically remained in the 3% to 4% range, including those clients who’ve passed away,” Ferrara explains. “We’re managing about $1.6 billion, as of the end of September, plus another roughly 200 million in retirement plan space with 401(k)s, but it’s our focus on individual clients and a long-term relationship, where we measure our success.”
Ferrara’s start in financial planning grew out of personal experience. While working for IBM, immediately after graduating from the University of Maryland, a fellow young graduate just starting out in investment encouraged Ferrara to invest in National U.S. Postal Service. He admits he had very little money to spare and “knew nothing about investment” except to ask about the competition.
“My friend informed me that the only competitor was this little company in Tennessee called FedEx,” Ferrara says. “They didn’t think that company was going to survive. So I invested $500 in [the national postal service], which didn’t last six months after I invested in it.”
With that experience, Ferrara decided he should learn about investing and he studied for, and received, his securities registration with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority soon afterward. He was hooked.
The industry was growing, and Ferrara left IBM to work in financial planning, first in Washington, D.C., and Texas, before moving to Florida in 1979.
Professionally, Ferrara became a leader in the industry early on. He has served on the board of directors for the Certified Financial Planners board of standards, for which he was chair in 2014, the Financial Planning Association, Institute of Certified Financial Planners and National Advisors Trust Co. In 2016, he was recognized for his service with the P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award, bestowed annually by the FPA to an “individual who has made remarkable contributions to the profession of financial planning.” He also became a leader in other ways; starting as a Bay area endeavor to educate local residents on financial planning, Ferrara launched a radio show, “Talking Money,” which was picked up for syndication and ran for 10 years, until ProVise’s success demanded his undivided attention.
Ferrara and his wife, Kim, also have made lasting contributions across the Tampa Bay area. As Ferrara explains, “I was blessed with parents that had a sense of giving. My mom and dad did not have a lot of treasure to give, but they had a lot of heart, a lot of spirit and time to give. So I grew up in a home where giving back was just part of what you did.”
Over the decades, Ferrara and his wife have primarily focused on three areas: health care, education and children. Ferrara has served on the boards of numerous philanthropic institutions over the years including Morton Plant Hospitals, Bayhealth, Eckerd Connects, the Clearwater Chamber of Commerce and the Alzheimer’s Association. Ferrera continues to be active in the greater Bay area, both on the front lines and behind the scenes aspects. For example, he’s been working to pass legislation for more meaningful jobs, at a sustainable wage, across the Bay area. As Ferrara adds, “It’s a great place to live, work and play, and all we can do is come together to try our best to make it a better place for everyone.”
As ProVise enters 2022, Ferrera will step down from CEO, turning over the reins to the next generation. Yet Ferrara plans to continue his day-to-day efforts of putting people first.
“Even after doing this for 50 years,” he explains, “I am still enjoying it, and hope I am still making an impact on lives.” ♦