Diverse young and old benefit from Marin County man’s financial, life expertise

Steve Branton hopes to help others find a stable and secure path in life, both in their youth and as adults.

The 47-year-old adviser and principal at Private Ocean, a San Rafael-based wealth management firm, works with Latinx and LGBTQIA+ clients who have historically been underserved by the financial services community.

That includes helping Latinx’s clients with cross-border money management and LGBTQIA+ couples understand the tax bonuses and penalties of marriage and domestic partnerships.

Branton, who is among the recipients of the Business Journal’s inaugural Pride Business Leadership Awards, helps young people as a court appointed special advocate (CASA) in San Francisco’s foster care system. Branton, who lives in San Francisco, advocates for foster youth in a judicial system with few male advocates. He is also one of a small group of advocates who speak Spanish and are familiar with Latinx culture.

“I was inspired to become a CASA in Dallas after I served as a juror on a family court case in 2007. The advocate was the only party in the case who wasn’t getting paid for their effort. That made me want to advocate for children when I got settled in the Bay Area,” said Branton.

Branton said the COVID-19 pandemic allowed him to work from home. He could also attend CASA training online. After a certification video conference ceremony this past April, he is now advocating for his first client. He’s slowly getting to know the child and their caretaker through brief outdoor visits that involve masks and social distancing.

Branton’s interests in Latinx culture and economics fully developed after years of work and study. He is Asian American and grew up in a middle class family in Dallas. Following his graduation from high school in 1992, Branton took a summer trip to Ecuador.

The next fall, when he started at Tulane University, he chose to major in economics and Latin American studies. Later, Branton made summer trips to Ecuador again and to Mexico. He also spent a year abroad in Spain.

Before returning to Dallas, Branton spent two years assisting with production at National Geographic magazine in Washington, D.C. Yet he missed Spanish. When he came back to Texas, Branton worked from 1998 until 2007 as a court translator.

“I translated for cases in municipal, county, and state courts. This was independent freelance work, where you weren’t on salary. The money was either feast or famine,” said Branton.

Branton said the lack of retirement options for self-employed workers motivated him to learn how he could become financially secure.

“I saw members of my family lose money in the first tech bubble in 1999. I also wanted to help others achieve that goal,” said Branton.

In 2006, Branton entered the certified financial planner training program at Southern Methodist University. After he graduated, in 2007, he and his partner relocated to the Bay Area.

“It’s ethnically diverse and offers opportunities to experience nature,” said Branton.

Since his early days in financial planning, Branton has participated in pro bono clinics. Such events give clients an understanding of how to create a diverse investment portfolio without having to pay a commission in return.

Options to invest differ according to a party’s marital status and connections.

“LGBTQIA+ individuals who initially planned on being single for the rest of their lives now have the full legal right to get married. They can plan for retirement in new ways. This requires a lot of planning ahead, down to the date of the wedding, to consider the tax impacts of marriage,” said Branton.

Branton said only clients in the top two brackets will be required to pay a marriage tax penalty.

“There’s not much you can do other than the traditional things to reduce earned income, like retirement saving. An advisor can help with that,” said Branton.

Branton said Latinx clients at clinics tend to have cross-border issues.

“(These include) how to keep ownership of land, money, and personal property in Mexico in the family. I’ve also addressed fraud and avoiding financial scams,” said Branton.

As Branton continues to build on his years of professional experience in wealth management, he is starting to see the work as an advocate as a balance.

“A CASA is appointed to just one child at a time. You’re the only person there who focuses solely on this child. The ideas you share, the statements you make, will impact that child for the rest of their life,” said Branton.

Branton said working as an advocate also teaches him what is needed to support youth growing up in the foster care system, especially those who are survivors of domestic violence.

“My position helps me elevate the rights and needs of individuals who lack a voice,” said Branton.

Branton added that another type of volunteer work he does helps him see youth at the end of their journey in the foster care system. On multiple occasions, Branton has spoken to emancipated youth who are now teens and young adults in the job training program at the Treasure Island Jobs Corps Center.

The Jobs Corps offers residential housing, a living allowance, and on-the-job training for low-income students between the ages of 16 and 24.

“I share ideas to help them think about financial planning and in the future. For example, at the end of the year, we talk about gift-giving options that will allow them to show their appreciation for their family, but save for themselves as well. At these talks, just as when I talk with clients one-on-one, I allow the listeners to ask questions to become empowered,” said Branton.

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