The best advisors in the world already know the secret to real success: It's all about the client. They are absolutely passionate about their missions to provide best-in-class service, and consider themselves the best at their specialties. They also know they can't be everything to every client, so they build teams of individuals, many with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, who share their passion and their vision. In fact, besides seeking opportunities in the market, their greatest challenge is finding the right individuals who share their passion.
Gone are the days of the one broker, one sales assistant structure when serving the affluent. Today's most successful teams include specialists that range from relationship managers and trust professionals to bond traders and gerontologists.
Also gone are hiring practices based on trial and error, bringing in warm bodies and hoping they work out. The best teams -- the ones that make it into The Winner's Circle -- spend months, and sometimes years, doing their own due diligence on prospective team members, looking for something that a Series 7 exam can't measure: attitude and passion. Most of our team leaders rate these two qualities above direct experience.
In fact, in our survey of top teams, character, values and especially attitude and passion ranked far higher than any specialized knowledge. The reasoning: Anyone can learn a trade, but developing the right character and attitude can take a lifetime.
Another consistent hiring theme among top teams is finding the right personality fit. No matter how strong the structure you have in place, one wrong person could tear it apart. If the new person isn't a good fit, they could demoralize the entire team, leading to a cultural demise that would lead to a lack of productivity and lower client satisfaction.
How do these Winner's Circle advisors avoid potential catastrophes? One way is by taking their time. Merrill Lynch's Cenname Team in Columbus, Ohio, doesn't hire anyone unless one or more of the partners has known that person for at least two years. George Schietinger, in Credit Suisse Private Banking's New York City office, says that he'll hire an outstanding individual now, and then find the right position later.
"Outstanding advisors are absolutely passionate about serving their clients with the highest levels of service and advice," says Peter Jones, president of Franklin Templeton Distributors. "And they're committed to surrounding themselves with teams that share this passion."
In July, Franklin Templeton hosted our celebratory event honoring this year's Winner's Circle inductees at the Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton, Fla. Much more than just a pat on the back, the event brought together a dynamic group of teams and individuals, each anxious to share their ideas on how to better serve and advise clients.
[NOTE: A list of Top Teams appears at the end of this article.]
Private Asset Management
Robert W. Baird & Co.
Recently, a family sold its business and invested the proceeds in a complex of trusts and foundations. When performance and service lagged, they turned to the Private Asset Management (PAM) team at Baird. The team's research analysts engineered a lower-cost, tax-efficient portfolio with better performance. Working with outside tax and legal experts PAM assisted the family in revamping planning structures, so the project would keep on moving and the client, team and outside advisors would be kept informed.
"That account's problems went far beyond performance," says Michael Klein. "We addressed each one creatively: eliminating costs, improving performance and lowering fees to bring value to the bottom line. That kind of value can't be shown in a pie chart."
A Multi-Disciplinary Team
This Winner's Circle team, led by Mike Klein, Jerry Gerndt, Phil Dallman, James Schultz and Kristin Lindblom, credits its success to three distinguishing characteristics: an unbiased approach, value-added services and diverse specializations. Specialization and depth of expertise are hallmarks of this multi-disciplinary team whose members possess MBA, CFA, JD and CPA degrees and designations in addition to an average industry experience of over 15 years per team member.
"Our clients are sophisticated and they require expertise far beyond pie charts and reports," Klein, a former engineer, says. "They expect solutions that provide value, in dollars, along with personal service."
Dedicated sub-teams for service, operations and research provide the depth and diversity needed to serve the team's client base: ultra-high-net-worth families and corporations. Each business segment is supervised by one of the partners. Klein works closely with the PAM research team in addition to overseeing business operations and overall management. Dallman, a 20-year veteran of the industry who joined PAM in 2004, focuses on business development.
Lindblom leads the team's analysts whose independent, unbiased research selects and monitors investment managers for client portfolios. Schultz, with over 20 years of experience, manages clients' fixed-income portfolios for cash-flow concerns and alternative minimum tax (AMT) control.
Gerndt oversees service and operations, including coordinated planning with individual clients' other advisors for general taxes, AMT minimization, estate and business succession issues. Corporate clients also benefit from the team's cash-flow-focused pension modeling, which integrates both allocation and regulatory requirements.
Even compensation is engineered around the client. Everyone is on salary, and everyone shares in the year-end bonus pool based on how well the team meets client objectives.
"We make client service everyone's concern," says Gerndt. "That spurs extra effort and creative thinking by the whole team."
The Corey Group
Ask any successful partnership to describe their relationships and one word tends to come to mind: marriage. Partners since 1992 and married since 1984, Lee Corey and Dail Turner are no exception. But while they share the many interests and values that make a successful marriage, there's one characteristic that adds to their business success: diversity.
Entering the business in 1981, Lee's resum? includes model, teacher and a legislative union representative for the railroad. Dail was an Air Force pilot before joining his wife's business. And their junior partner, Gianni Giordano, played professional soccer before entering the industry in 1998.
Diversity Brings Perspective
"Our diversity enriches the services and the perspective that we have to offer our clients," Corey says.
Any successful team of advisors will talk about the importance of diversity and bringing together different skills to provide comprehensive client solutions. But it's hard to find a more diverse group than Lee Corey's team.
Structurally, Lee, who holds a CIMA designation, is the general "because every team needs one," she laughs. Her expertise is in overall financial planning, wealth management and building personal relationships. Turner is a CFP who has graduate degrees from both Georgetown and George Washington universities. His strengths include analyzing and distilling global economics and complicated income issues. Giordano focuses on solutions for corporate clients, such as developing cashless exercise stock option programs, employee stock purchase plans and pre-planned disposition programs, also known as 10b5-1 plans.
That broad range of professional expertise creates a 360-degree view from which the team analyzes each client's entire financial picture. During the first meeting, Corey and Turner collect every piece of data. Working from a checklist, they gather information on everything from mortgages to family relationships. Then they gather every document available, from bank statements to wills.
"We go through every aspect of their life," Corey says. "We don't just look at what they own, we look at how they use it to guide asset and liability matching."
From there, Karin McLaughlin, the team's wealth management analyst, x-rays the paperwork, compiling a comprehensive list of every asset and every liability. It's her job to pinpoint areas of concern. For instance, she'll spot if the client's asset allocation is off balance or red-flag a balloon payment coming up. The entire team, including the lead assistant, Kristin Rascona, meet together to develop a strategy to help the clients achieve not only their financial goals, but their life goals.
"We take a very disciplined, broad-based approach to ensure each client's intentions and plans become reality," she says. "It's great to have a plan, but a plan is just a document. Most people need someone to provide discipline and objective advice to help them get from point A to point B."
"From the very first interview, every one of our clients understands that this is a partnership," she says. "We are very passionate about what we do."
The Chiavacci Group
Coral Gables, Florida
Several years ago, an entrepreneur was ready to sell his business, but wasn't sure whether to take it public himself through an initial public offering or sell out to a larger firm. He engaged the Chiavacci team six months prior to making his move to work with his accountant and attorneys, and the team crunched every number, analyzing the situation from every perspective, incorporating income-tax issues, estate implications, insurance and other investment considerations.
After reviewing all of his choices, the client implemented an installment sale to a defective grantor trust coupled with a family limited partnership and an irrevocable life insurance trust. On a present-value basis, the family ended up saving about $80 million that could have been lost to taxes.
That level of planning and service simply wouldn't be possible without the team he has in place, Chiavacci says.
In 1997, Louis Chiavacci had a revelation when he first looked at Merrill Lynch's then-new comprehensive Family Office Group platform.
"In the late 1990s, I felt there was going to be a period of reckoning for our industry as securities prices, especially in the technology and telecommunications sectors, were highly extended and possibly going to come down in value," Chiavacci remembers. "I felt we could gain meaningful market share through that period if we had a service offering superior to what is generally available."
Through the Merrill Lynch platform, he could see the value he could bring to the ultra-high-net-worth families he worked with by integrating financial planning, estate planning and cash-flow planning into an overarching investment strategy.
That's when he started building a team, pulling together different strengths to complement his own expertise in client service and investment management. First on board was Michael Beckerman, a financial planning specialist from Ernst & Young who had already built a successful career providing comprehensive financial planning and wealth management services to wealthy families.
"He brought a completely new skill set into the team," Chiavacci says. "The integration of financial planning into overall investment planning has been a very powerful competitive differentiator for us."
So powerful that since Chiavacci restructured his solo broker business into a wealth management team, assets under management have grown eight-fold, he says. And through that growth, new skills were required to manage specific client needs, particularly around fixed-income. That's when he brought Mark Malone on board.
A 14-year veteran of Merrill's bond division, Mark headed up the Tampa, Fla., municipal bond trading desk for 11 years, and joined the team a year ago as a partner.
Backing up the three partners are two financial analysts, Belkys Pereda and Joseph Chan, as well as an equity research and analytics specialist, F. Ken Chan. Client services are handled by Kim Lemmon and Sana Fuerth, both of whom have more than 20 years of experience in financial services. As a vertical team with a broad reach of experience, they can handle virtually anything ultra-high-net-worth clients bring them.
"Because we only work with about 50 families, everyone on the team knows each client very well, which allows us to provide a highly personalized level of service."
R.J. Shook, President and founder of The Winner's Circle organization, released his eighth book, The Winner's Circle IV. His rankings also appear in dozens of annual cover stories in publications such as Barron's, Boston Magazine, California CEO, Minneapolis Business and more. To nominate an advisor and to find more information on the program, visit WCorg.com. The Winner's Circle is a registered trademark of The Winner's Circle, LLC.