Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Aug. 28 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
Bryan Vowels, founding partner and CEO of Vowels Stovern Wealth LLC in Joplin, Mo., pivoted from banking to the industry he was most passionate about before returning to his hometown.
The Joplin native was a senior vice president at Bank of Fayetteville when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named him to the Forty Under 40 class in 1999. He was responsible for ensuring the bank was Y2K compliant.
“There was a lot of worried people out in the community about that,” he said. “Everything went well, so we dodged another bullet there.”
Vowels also helped to start a wealth management department at the bank, and it had a fee-only planner and investment employee before he left the bank.
“My time there was great,” Vowels said. “(Bank founder) John Lewis … was a mentor of mine while I was down there and was after I left, too.”
After living in Northwest Arkansas for about four years, Vowels changed careers to wealth management and returned to Joplin.
“I’d rather try and fail at this — something I think I’m going to love … instead of always wondering for the rest of my life what if,” he said.
Vowels, 53, spent about 20 years in the wealth management industry, managing offices for Wells Fargo Advisors, formerly A.G. Edwards and Wachovia Securities, before leaving the firm. In 2022, he and business partner Troy Stovern established Vowels Stovern Wealth.
The firm comprises two financial advisers, two assistants and about $500 million in assets under management. Its approximately 325 clients are primarily in the four-state area, but the firm has clients in 28 states.
“We are a purpose-driven wealth firm,” Vowels said. “We’re both certified financial planners, but we love understanding our clients’ purpose. We call it our north star: What’s the thing that guides you that matters most in life, and let’s build a plan on how you achieve that.”
Another focus area is generosity planning and how to live out the vision to give back to the community or faith in ways that impact clients and the organizations they support.
He said the company has committed to donating 5% of revenue to the community before owners’ compensation. Donations will go toward the firm’s three focus areas: child welfare, education and trails.
The firm recently broke ground on a 1,700-square-foot office on 12 acres in Joplin. The property includes a spring, and Shoal Creek runs along its north side. He expects to move into the new office next summer.
“We are looking to grow advisers over time and build the practice,” Vowels said. “We keep preaching purpose-driven wealth, and what better way to show it than living it out ourselves? It’s a great environment, like a park setting, where we can have clients come out, discuss life and how we plan for the good things and tough times.”
Forbes named Vowels to the 2023 Best-in-State Wealth Advisors list, and this was his sixth consecutive year to make the list.
“We’ve got great clients,” he said. “We got a great team even though we’re small … If you focus on doing what’s right and that long-term vision of helping people achieve weddings for the kids, college … and always putting them first … good things happen.
“It’s that service mentality. As long as we’re doing it, I think it’s going to be the focus of our firm. If you can help another person along their journey, that’s pretty cool to be a small part of that.”
He moved to Northwest Arkansas after joining Arkansas National Bank, which offered to pay for his MBA. He earned an MBA from the University of Arkansas in 1999. He joked that he went from rooting against Arkansas to rooting for Arkansas as long as the Razorbacks aren’t playing Missouri.
Along with being a certified financial planner, he’s also a chartered financial analyst.
Vowels is board president of Missouri Southern Foundation, former chair of the Philanthropic Society of Joplin Regional Community Foundation and helped launch Aspire Scholarship Program in Joplin.
He and his wife Leticia reside in Joplin and have three children. Vowels enjoys traveling, hiking, fishing and kayaking.