From the January 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Formula for Success

Diamonds are a girl's best friend. But CPAs are worth lots more to financial advisors.

That's what savvy Barry L. Pinsky bet when he began as an FA 10 years ago. Indeed, certified public accountants have turned out to be the versatile PhD's prime source of referrals.

"A CPA is one of the most highly trusted advisors to individuals and business people. I thought it would be helpful to tap into that network of trusted advisors in order to become a trusted advisor myself. I've cultivated their trust over the years, and it's served me," says Pinsky, 55, a Merrill Lynch wealth management advisor in the firm's Global Private Client Group.

Specializing in financial planning and management for individuals and trusts, Encino, Calif.-based Pinsky, in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, puts major stress on risk mitigation. He steers clear of high-risk investments and over-concentration in any single market sector or particular stock. What he is fond of are principal-protected securities -- a combo bond-option derivative -- and exchange-traded funds.

"ETFs are great. They're finely targeted. You get what you think you're getting. They're tax efficient. Clients seem to like them, though they don't understand them exactly. [But] I've put together multi-million-dollar portfolios with ETFs that are broadly diversified and very efficiently invested. They've turned out to be perfectly profitable. I use ETFs a lot."

The circle of L.A.-area CPAs -- along with some estate attorneys -- that Pinsky has developed certainly benefits from knowing him as well. Over the years, he's provided these professionals with a slew of services, especially setting up continuing education programs for them. The FA himself is a CFP, ChFC and CFM -- on top of having a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley.

"What's neat about Barry is that he stays on the cutting edge of every change in [industry] law. I send [other FAs] to him if they have questions because I know he's up on everything. He has designations no one else in the office has," notes Paul Pepperman, senior resident director of Merrill's Encino branch.

Pinsky is just as diligent when it comes to creating and sustaining client relationships. Communication, communication, communication -- he excels at that. "Years of studies have shown the primary reason clients leave their advisors isn't performance or results," he says. "It's lack of communication." Pinsky has proven that his approach works: He is a recipient of the firm's Platinum Certificate for Client Service, an award based on client-satisfaction surveys.

He goes all out to gain psychological insight into every client's needs. "You have to understand their emotional make-up and what they can live with in terms of volatility. It's about structuring a portfolio that will work for them," says Pinsky. He also keeps clients and their other advisors in the loop -- "aware of what's going on and what needs to be done."

Science was his first career. Graduating with Highest Honors in chemistry from the University of California at Santa Cruz, the L.A. native earned a PhD in chemistry, then worked as a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University. He next relocated to St. Louis for a research chemist job at Monsanto.

But homesick for family and palm trees, Pinsky, wife Linda, and the first of their now four sons returned to California just two-and-a-half years later. There, this glass wholesaler's son launched his own retail glass business. After a decade, he sold the company. ("Running a small business is a very, very challenging and lonely activity.") He was poised to apply for a job teaching high school chemistry when he spied a newspaper ad Merrill Lynch had placed. "It was a cattle call [for advisors]. They were looking for people who'd had a previous career, were active in the community and liked working with people. I'd done all that and was doing my own investing, too. I thought, 'Why not try it?"

The firm hired him as a trainee in Glendale, Calif. But "you wouldn't believe how green I was! I had no idea what the job exactly [entailed] or even that I was going to be a commissioned salesperson," he allows.

One of his biggest surprises was discovering "the freedom we had to manage our books. In many ways, we're much more free than independent franchisees," he notes. "We have so many different options and platforms" from which to choose.

In 2001, he transferred to Merrill's Encino office. As Pinsky sees it, the biggest challenge FAs face these days is to deter baby boomers from financial struggle in their retirement years. "We'll be working with our clients to make some difficult decisions as a result of their insufficient preparation for what will be a much longer retirement than boomers had anticipated."

Off-hours, Pinsky -- unrelated to ex-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky but a fourth cousin of media relationship-guru Dr. Drew Pinsky -- is a baseball fan, big-time, and a journalist, part-time. He's been a columnist for the Los Angeles Business Journal and, with a compelling piece about famed Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully, was a semi-finalist in the L.A. Daily News' Sports Columnist competition of 2006.

Pinsky, however, has no yen to leave financial services to become a full-time wordsmith. "I really like the [financial services] business a whole lot. I plan to sit in this chair," he chuckles, "till they carry me out in a box!"

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Barry L. Pinsky

Assistant Vice President, Wealth Management Advisor, Global Private Client Group, Merrill Lynch; Encino, Calif.

What's he about? "My parents instilled in me the importance of always trying to do the right thing -- to take the honorable, moral action. In any business, especially ours, that is invaluable."

How he keeps clients happy: "I'm pretty good at communicating with clients and their [other] advisors. My wife would probably say, 'I wish you'd bring that skill home!'"

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