Celebrating 30 years

Grounded in Experience, Set for the Future

For 30 years, Northwest Trustee & Management Services has proven an unwavering commitment to serving individuals, families and their advisors with compassion, integrity and professionalism. What began in the cold winter months of 1989-1990 has become a company with a regional presence building a reputation for expert management of complex assets and complicated families one client at a time.

In 2019, the business transitioned ownership from Steve Trefts to his son-in-law, Greg Bowman. Along with this transition, the company has also invested heavily in our technology, team, and business structure to allow the company to deliver even more personalized solutions for our trust and estate management clients. Now, with Greg Bowman as CEO and Steve as President, the company will provide enhanced service for families with complex needs.

leadership for the future

Stephen Trefts, president

In 2012, Greg and our daughter Lisa were living in Africa and working in a non-profit in Kenya and South Sudan. When Carole and I came to visit, I took the opportunity to make a clear and concise offer to them while we were sitting around the fire after a safari drive in the Serengeti Wildlife Reserve: “Move to Spokane and use your professional skills at Northwest Trustee.” I was delighted in this response: “We’ll join you if we can all agree on a goal of doubling the size of the company in five years.” 

My desire to keep the family in the business has been a dream of mine since I began three decades ago, but I knew that my highest priority was to transition leadership to someone who has the passion and the aptitude for serving our clients and their advisors. Greg’s past work experience and passion for helping people put him in a rare category. He is a CPA who began his career in accounting and business advisory services at KPMG in his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. He transitioned into corporate finance at Deloitte, meanwhile my daughter Lisa began working at the Bank of New Zealand in a small team focused on business improvements and process analysis.

Lisa and Greg paused their corporate careers to move to Africa in 2011 to work for a non-profit organization in South Sudan, which implemented large development projects such as managing rural clinics, refugee camps, schools, and churches. With a budget of over ten million dollars from large donors such as USAID and the United Nations, Greg worked closely with the Board of Directors to create a sustainable future for the organization by strengthening the processes, financial reporting, and leadership.

With Greg and Lisa joining Northwest Trustee in 2013, the company began to see rapid growth. Greg came at the perfect time to participate in and lead many changes to our company, including our transition to a State Chartered Trust company in 2014, opening our Boise Regional Office in 2015, and transition our technology to an entirely new platform.

In 2018, Greg, Lisa, my wife Carole and I began the process of transitioning the business. Transitioning ownership from one generation to the next is challenging to say the least—the statistics of such transitions are not in the favor of success—and there is even less of a chance of still enjoying Thanksgiving dinners and family vacations together. We are overjoyed that we have set the leadership of the company for the future. I remain President of the company and continue to manage the fiduciary oversight of the company. As CEO, Greg is leading the company in a renewed season of growth, which has required continuous improvement in our level of expertise as a team as well as heavy investment in technology and new markets.

On a completely personal note, it brings me great joy to see Greg and Lisa’s three children come into the office and play with the telephones, copy machines, and pens, just as my three children did 30 years ago.  

A platform for growth

Northwest Trustee is growing. We have seen more than 30 percent growth year on year, with milestones that have been fun to experience as a team. Most recently, we achieved one billion dollars of assets under management. This is crucial for the long-term sustainability of the company, allowing us to grow the expertise of our team to continue providing for increasing affluent clients.

In the past five years, we moved from a sole proprietorship to a Washington State Chartered Trust Company. As a regulated financial institution, we have increased oversight and supervision from the regulators as well as a Board of Directors. Both provide sound guidance.

A major achievement is that we are now licensed in Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska, with a regional office in Boise to serve our Idaho clients. This move has significant advantages for our clients in terms of finding a state with the most favorable laws to fit their needs, whether that be Washington law or Alaska law. 

Greg also has made huge strides in improving our technology platforms. He has successfully transitioned providers, implemented updates, and worked to ensure that our clients benefit from the increased efficiency as a result. 

Underlying all of these improvements, both Greg and I believe that it is ultimately our ability to integrate our core values into everything we do that will impact our current and future clients. Integrity, Compassion, Professionalism, and Diligence are the foundations for who we are and how we make decisions. 

Grounded in Experience

greg bowman, ceo

When Steve tells the story of asking Lisa and me to join Northwest Trustee, I often laugh as the details on the Serengeti always get more dramatic at the campfire with a full moon and howling hyenas with Masai guards to protect us from roaming lions. Steve is a storyteller by nature, who weaves together the stories of his 40 years of experiences with clients who need a caring professional. What I didn’t realize seven years ago, was that this is a testament to the care and intention that he has when it comes to providing a service to our clients that is hard to find elsewhere.

The first client in the winter of 1990 started the company off well: a train-hopping man who had a bit of money and no way to manage it. Under the bright flickering sign ‘check your guns at the desk,’ documents were signed at the Union Gospel Mission. Then came a missionary who couldn’t manage her life savings of $27,000. Later, Steve went to meet John: disabled from childhood meningitis, surrounded by IRS attorneys wearing dark suits, prosecuting attorneys from two rural counties, and his attorney. His deceased father did not believe in paying income or property taxes, and most of his extensive farmland was lost in tax foreclosures. After filing 27 delinquent tax returns, selling farmland, and paying off creditors, John is now living in suitable housing with funds left over. 

Steve began the business because there was a gap in the market. No company was meeting the needs of clients in the following way:

  • First, there is a need for diligent and compassionate trust and estate administration for complicated families, the physically and mentally handicapped, those with addictions or individuals with legal issues. 
  • Secondly, there was and still is a need for a professional trustee who is willing to take complex assets. 
  • Lastly, clients needed a trustee that was free of a conflict of interest. We always use outside investment advisors (preferably the client’s advisor) and the client is always represented by his or her attorney.

Complex assets

Over the course of a lifetime, wealth is usually accumulated through a wide range of asset growth, whether that is a business, real estate, farmland, collectables, etc. We often find that banks and national trust companies prefer such unusual assets sold and put into securities to be managed by their investment department.

While some of our clients want their assets sold and reinvested into securities, many want their assets retained and managed by a diligent trustee who will continue to build the value of those assets.

Managing complex assets can be difficult. It takes experience, flexibility, and rock-solid internal processes to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. When I arrived seven years ago, Steve had built up a reputation of accepting trusts with some incredible complexity. Our assets include ownership in a closely held company fishing in the Bering Sea and thousands of acres of timberland and farmland in the Northwest. We work with families to manage farmland for their future generations. In the event that an estate needs to be liquidated, we employ knowledgeable professionals to auction off antiques, farm equipment and classic car collections among other items. We sit on the boards of LLCs and add our voice into teams of advisors and family foundations.

complicated families

While managing assets and building wealth is hard, sometimes managing relationships present even deeper challenges. Complicated family dynamics play a large part in selecting a trustee. We work with estate planning attorneys and their clients to get a clear picture of their goals and aspirations. We have experience bringing peace into blended families, mediating siblings who disagree on how their parents’ wealth should be used, and sticking firm to the wishes of the grantor in the face of legal opposition. In the face of these challenges, Steve has modeled compassion and professionalism regarding these difficult life situations. 

We use independent investment advisors

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of our business is that we don’t work alone. Every trust we accept has an independent investment advisor, something that Steve set as a company policy in 1990 and has never wavered. Our “trustee only” approach removes any conflict of interest and provides an unbiased perspective which benefits the client (or beneficiary) in three areas:

  • Our investment oversight and reviews are unbiased
  • We require a customized investment benchmark
  • We have unparalleled investment access.

In the past seven years, I have enjoyed using my background in financial management to improve our trust investment process inaugurated by Steve many years ago.

I work closely with some of the best investment advisors in the Northwest and across the country. These relationships are key to our clients’ success— good teamwork is always better than working alone.

the future is bright

While Steve and I have many more years of working closely together, we are ever aware of our need to build a team around us to make this journey about our clients and their unique needs. We are privileged to serve our clients with an outstanding staff of over 20 professionals that include four attorneys, a CPA, an MBA, a Certified Professional Guardian and a staff who are eager life-long learners.

When we stop to pause in celebration of 30 years, we feel a deep sense of gratitude for all that brought us to where we are today and are excited about serving clients for many more generations.

Published March, 2020