Inside the Minds of Barron’s Top Financial Advisors


This is a summary of a panel from the Fiserv Client Conference Spring 2012, which was held in Las Vegas, NV.

Moderator:

Sterling Shea, Managing Director, Head of Advisory & Wealth Management Programs, Barron’s.

Panelists:

Ed Dollinger, Edward Jones, 26 years – manages $500 mm

Theresa Chicopolos, CFP, Wells Fargo, Scottsdale, AZ, 26 years – manages $1.16 bil in Ultra-HNW and Institutional assets, she was the #1 ranked advisor in Arizona in both 2010 and 2011.

John Waldron, CFP, Founder and CEO of Waldron Investments, $2.2 bil AUM, HNW individual and institutional clients, #1 ranked advisor in Pennsylvania.

What functions are you allocating more time to now than you did five years ago?

net new flow of money is concentrated in a small number of advisors, these advisors adapted their methods of communication and internal processes to the evolving consumer needs.

Chicopolos has been steadily reducing the number of client relationships over the past ten years in order to concentrate the firm’s focus on fewer while still increasing the overall AUM. 10 years ago, she had 3,500 clients and it was mostly transactional business. 5 years ago she was down to 280 clients, and today she has just 75. She spends more time now looking at her client’s entire balance sheet and making sure that they execute the plans as they are designed.

Waldron Investments is a consulting firm with 26 employees that has an independent asset management offering that integrates with the other seven financial disciplines. Five years ago they were mostly doing the same things as today, which is understanding the client’s entire balance sheet and implementing financial strategies. What has changed significantly is their client’s psyche, he said. More clients are doing due diligence on them than five years ago.

Previously, Dollinger’s firm focused more on portfolio construction, but now they’re focusing more on strengthening client relationships. Over the past five years they’ve been trying to reduce the number of client relationships and increase the amount of assets at the ones they have, he said.

How has the average age of your clients changed over time?

The average client age now is 45-50 versus 75-80 five years ago, Chicopolos said. They’re now getting involved in multi-generational issues since many clients have elderly parents that they have become responsible for. Her firm takes full discretion, so they want their clients to fully understand their IPS, she emphasized.

Contrary to Chicopolos’ client base, Dollinger’s average client has become much older, but they are also working with three generations of clients. What has changed is that 2/3 of their clients are now women and they want more say in the decision making.

Are your clients asking about multi-generational wealth transfers?

Waldron’s firm is handling more multi-generational education sessions than they did five years ago, he reported.  They are also including children as young as 15 and as old as 55.  Keeping in touch with all family generations is becoming increasingly important, Shea said.  He quoted from a recent industry report, which stated that in UHNW families, when the primary financial decision-making responsibility goes from the patriarch to the spouse, the average industry advisor retention rate is 44%.  However, when it goes to a child, the retention rate plunges to just 2%!

Understanding their clients comfort with risk is important to, Chicopolos said.  Also, not all of their clients want to leave money to their children.  Sometimes they want to give to charity, or sometimes just skip a generation and give to their grandchildren, she said.

Has the media over-hyped macro economic issues?  If so, does it make it more difficult to position your services as goals based?

The fact that they full discretion makes it easier to talk to clients, Chicopolos said.  Psychologically, it’s easy to buy a stock but hard to sell since clients get emotionally attached, so the transfer of discretion effectively removes that impediment from them, she explained.  Their clients aren’t overly concerned with all the “noise” out there.

Waldron emphasized that their tag line is “simplifying life”.  All the media hype confuses clients, but this fits with our mission since they look to us to help them make sense of everything.  Investment management is just one piece, he said.

What is the current level of optimism of your clients regarding the economy and the markets?

Dollinger said that his clients are cautiously optimistic. His older clients, who are in the distribution phase, are more concerned with outliving their savings. He admitted that sometimes the industry makes products too complicated.

Waldron’s clients are very aware of the geopolitical situation and current events around the world. It’s a very unsettling time, he said.  His clients are also concerned about the exploding US debt that is over $15 trillion.

What kind of resources would you need to better serve your clients five years from now?

More capable financial advisors and client relationship managers would be a big help to Dollinger, while Chicopolos would like to see better technology on their fiduciary trust platform.   60% of what Waldron’s firm does requires technical skills and 40% is emotional and psychological.  They need help improving their listening skills and knowledge of behavioral finance in order to help better understand their clients, he said.

What new products or services do you have in the pipeline?

Starting this year, Dollinger said, their firm is rolling out an income manager account. A lot of their baby boomer clients are in the distribution phase and it is difficult to manage all the sources of income.   They also plan to offer rebalancing portfolios on a threshhold basis instead of strictly on a calendar basis.

How do you educate your clients?

Chicopolos said that her firm schedules one or two education days at a hotel or the family’s country club. Some clients have their own family foundations – this enables the children to follow their passions? the family votes on it. One on one meetings with each family member. personal financial planning with each child. what is their mission statement? each family member has a binder. Walk them through everything — their bank accounts, 401(k), budgets.

What is the percentage of fee-based business and what is your most popular product?

Waldron – 100%, ETFs

Chicopolos – 97%, individual bonds and closed end funds

Dollinger – 25%, Mutual Fund Wrap

How do you set your allocations for alternative investments and how granular do you get with sub-sectors?

Waldron reported that they look at alternative sub-sectors separately and make a tactical allocations based on what’s happening in the market. They mix in some hedge fund of funds as well as non-hedge strategies (i.e. commodities), he said.  They mostly fulfill alternatives through non-40 Act vehicles.

Chicopolos doesn’t use alternatives but does use a lot of options such as protective puts to lock in client’s inherent gains.

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