Nominate the 2008 Advisor of the Year
We tried to inform Robert Graham that he's this year's Boomer Market Advisor of the Year, only to be told he was out of the office.
"He headed out to Moab, Utah, for the weekend," said his assistant. "He's competing in a 70-mile cross-country adventure race: running, biking and kayaking."
"I bought a mountain bike a few years back," Graham explained upon his return. "I figure since I spent the money, I want a return on the investment."
Spend any time with Graham, and this sounds about right. If one phrase can accurately describe the president and CEO of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based RG Capital, it's "incredible enthusiasm."
After two years as vice president of a regional broker/dealer (while he was still in his 20s), he left for the requisite stint in the wirehouse world. But his taste for independence eventually drew him back, and in 2004 he opened the doors of RG Capital. Since that time, the AIG Financial Advisors-affiliated firm has amassed $210 million in assets under management. Now at age 35, he believes he has the systems and processes in place to reach $1 billion in assets under management in the next five years.
"I started RG Capital with myself and one other person in the hopes that we would grow into something great," Graham says. "Since then, our vision's appealed to many different demographics. We've signed multiple contracts with significant referral groups. By doing so -- and by word of mouth -- we've been able to make a mark in our area, and nationally, as well."
So how does Graham gain the trust of his older baby boomer clients?
"We're taught in financial services to think about age-based models and to compartmentalize people within this mechanical, cookie-cutter approach to investing," he says. "Like most young professionals, I headed down that road. But when the market corrected, it really woke me up. When people are forced back to work, it influences their lives in horrendous ways. I made the decision at that time that it wasn't going to be an age-based investing strategy, it was going to be a value- vision- and goal-based strategy that drives our actions."
It's a tactic Graham says resonates well with boomer clients. He repeatedly hears the same comment, "that we listen to them. And it's that kind of feedback that builds a lasting bond with our clients
Recently, the firm made a big push in investor education. Of the 18 publicly traded companies in the Phoenix metropolitan area, 13 now host RG Capital's financial education seminar for their employees, with 2,800 individuals attending last year.
"With the education and soft endorsements from the companies we work with, we meet 25 to 30 people at a time, at a very low client acquisition cost," he explains. "That's very attractive. Too often, there are a lot of terrific advisors that can't get in front of enough people. We don't have that problem."
Unlike his peers, Graham doesn't require a minimum amount of investable assets before he'll work with clients. Rather, he wants "the right person with the right attitude." However, he does use an alphanumeric system to rank his clients. A1-level clients understand and completely accept his investment philosophy and business model. They work well with the firm and have a solid, collaborative relationship -- as well as more than $1 million in assets. A2 clients have $500,000 to $1 million in assets. A3 clients have $250,000 to $500,000. A4 clients have zero to $250,000 in assets.
"We don't have many A4 clients, and if someone's a challenge to work with, we'd rather give our attention to those that are nicer," he says.
Accountability is front and center throughout the organization. Graham creates timelines for specific tasks that need to be accomplished, which are then reviewed with the client and documented.
"When we perform client reviews, we look at the standard statement reviews, but then we pull up the timeline and say, 'Look, this is what you and I have accomplished, and this is what we still need to accomplish,' " he says. "It's another way for clients to own the relationship and really wrap their arms around it."
For those who might be skeptical of Graham's ambitious five-year AUM goals, consider one last anecdote. Not content with the customer relationship management systems on the market, he decided to build his own -- and a company around it. Today, Graham is the co-chairman and founder of iNation, which produces the NationBuilder CRM product.
"I had this dream of an application that would create a high-touch, client-centered mechanism," he says. "iNation's tagline is 'Automatic for the People.' Technology too often replaces people. iNation inserts the advisor back into the client's life. It's about pure client service. It allows you to systematize your contact with clients. Our A1 clients get 12 contacts a year, four quarterly reviews and two face-to-face meetings. It also allows us to delegate within our company. The staff delegates to me, I delegate to them and it makes for a more efficient office. Everybody's held accountable. That's the magic word around here -- accountability."
We'll be sure to check back in five years, but we have little doubt as to where Graham will be.
Judith McGee and her daughter, Linette
Ask Judith McGee when she entered the advisor business, and she gets specific -- almost to the minute.
"July 28, 1975," she answers without hesitation.
It's this type of attention to detail that keeps the Raymond James-affiliated McGee at the top of her game, and makes her a finalist for the Boomer Market Advisor of the Year. The first woman to obtain the CFP designation in the 10 western states, her Portland, Ore.-based firm counts $378 million in retail and fee business.
One of a few women in an overwhelmingly male-dominated business, McGee had no trouble getting clients, as well as the respect of her peers.
"I grew up in a small town," she says. "My high school graduating class had 60 people. I always thought that I could do anything, even if I was bad at it. In other words, I was able to play volleyball even though I can't jump. I was never told I couldn't do it, so I've done everything with an 'A' student mentality. I wouldn't allow myself not to succeed. I gained respect through results."
McGee's strong will and determination must be in her genes, as she comes from a long line of independent women. Her great-great-grandmother was an entrepreneur, and her great-grandmother was a politician who sold life insurance in the 1930s and was a traveling saleswoman in the 1940s. Now her daughter, Linette, has joined her in the firm, having been trained in business since she was five years old.
"We had a small hobby farm when I was a child," Linette recalls. "My mother decided that she was going to teach me business by having me raise chickens and sell the eggs. I had to keep a ledger on all the expenses, how many chickens I lost to raccoons, how many eggs I lost to blue jays and how many customers I had. I still have that ledger. I did OK until the cow broke into the feed bin and I had to declare a catastrophic loss."
Always a joiner, McGee's participated with industry organizations from the beginning. And in addition to running a successful business, both women have an extensive (to say the least) list of charitable organizations to which they volunteer. Mother and daughter are involved with Social Venture Partners, which pools its members' donations (minimum $5,000 per year) for community projects. They've been involved with Goodwill Industries for 12 years; William Temple House, which is an Episcopalian layman's mission that serves the working poor; and Project Patch, an organization that helps troubled teens. Linnette is on the board of the Rose Festival Foundation, a program and parade that serves the city of Portland. They work with Volunteers of America, Red Cross, American Heart Association ... you get the picture.
"I've been involved with charitable work every day for the past 30 years," McGee says. "Almost everyone in the firm does some sort of volunteer work."
This passion for helping her boomer clients translates to her planning and investment philosophy. The company's core values, she says, are embodied in five words: trust, partnership, caring, wisdom and foresight.
"I think the experience that the client has is that everything is totally focused on them," she adds. "It's listening to them and hearing what their opportunities are, their resources, their obstacles, their fears, their phobias, and their wishes and dreams. When we talk about all of this, we're really wrapping our arms around them and saying, 'With what we have and what we're hearing, here are some things that we can do to make life better.' The tag line for our company is 'Making Life a Richer Experience.' What we want to do is provide direction and a sense of organization for our clients."
Any chance of slowing down in the near future?
"We're probably more excited about our firm and our opportunities today than we have ever been," McGee says.
And McGee hastens to add that they're ready for more than just one generation of succession planning -- not surprising, given their family tradition.
The city of Portland must be doing something right with its financial services industry. Robert Smith is the second Boomer Market Advisor of the Year finalist to hail from the picturesque Oregon city. A comprehensive planner for 23 years, the Brookstreet Securities-affiliated advisor has $265 million in assets under management. And, like Judith McGee, it's all about family.
"It's my wife and myself," Smith says. "We have a couple of associates. I'm bringing my daughter into the business and my son-in-law is already with me. So we're family-oriented."
Smith attributes most of his success to intense, upfront due diligence with boomer clients to ensure a successful partnership.
"We spend quite a bit of time interviewing people about who they are, what they are, what their needs are, what their expectations are and what their temperament's like," he explains. "You can be the best advisor with the best products on the face of the earth, but if there's not a good personality match with the clients, the advisor's business ultimately is not going to be long term. So it's a subjective evaluation on my part in terms of personality fit. I think that's the principal reason that we've been so fortunate in not having any problems.
Smith says he "memorializes" every client conversation and every client meeting. He creates comprehensive files that are organized chronologically so a log exists that details everything that he has done, or committed to, with the client. Over a period of time, he says, the personality of the client becomes apparent and decreases the likelihood of something improper and untoward from happening.
Smith has a heavy focus on the tenants-in-common business, something he believes is effective in addressing the issues boomers face in retirement. Asking for a brief explanation of the TIC product is next-to-impossible -- not because it's complicated, but because he gets so excited.
"It's driven exclusively by the boomer phenomenon," he says. "It's a rationalized exit strategy for high-end real estate investors to rid themselves of their real estate holdings without the negative capital-gains consequences associated with other products. And, unlike real estate they might have owned in the past, it's secured."
Smith says that for at least for the next 10 years, demand should continue to increase. Given the fact that there's a fairly static supply of commercial real estate, it takes a fairly long time for inventory to change.
"There's a really healthy balance there," he adds. "It seems to be a very topical market with us given that our client group is smack dab in the middle of the boomer generation. We've been able to provide people with a safe, and increasing, income stream over their lifetime, and they don't have to worry about their wealth aggregate not growing."
Like all of this year's BMAY finalists (and a majority of this year's entries), Smith goes above and beyond when serving the needs of his clientele. For example, he has a client with two grandchildren in combat roles in Iraq.
"There are a lot of things those young men and women don't get over there," he says. "We talked with our client and his wife about what their grandkids are like; what they read, what they like to eat, what they aren't getting. The military created a monthly apparatus by which we could get a big box, dump this stuff in and send it off. It usually takes four to six weeks to get it, so there was a lag time. But once we got it up and running, they we're receiving them regularly. We've done that for a number of the children of our clients. I was never called upon to do that and we owe everything that we have to those people. We honor them and honor what they do. They're putting their lives on the line."
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