You know the names of the U.S. senators from your state, and maybe even your representative in Congress. But the way Washington works, it's the staffs of those members of Congress who do much of the real work in serving constituents and managing committee hearings, who write the speeches and craft the legislation. The analogy to this year's IA 25? Often it's the people without the corner offices, without the household names, who are bringing the advisory industry into the future.
In the 14th edition of the IA 25, we highlight those people who may be flying under the radar, but are nonetheless influential now and, in our estimation, will continue to be so. Please let us know what you think of our choices on ThinkAdvisor.com, where expanded profiles of this year's IA 25 will appear throughout May.
Our prime exhibit is Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez. While advisors active in the ERISA space long have dealt with DOL, its new fiduciary rule will affect all advisor channels — the wirehouses and the independent BDs, but also RIAs — who are more used to complying with SEC and FINRA (and state) regs than the complexities of ERISA. Perez himself took a back seat during the first go-round of the DOL rule's proposal, but he's now its main evangelist, and the rule will affect the entire industry for years to come.
Read about each of our 2016 IA 25 honorees and what makes them unique on the following pages and look for additional coverage on the honorees throughout the month on the IA 25 homepage.
(Photo: Victor Jeffreys)
Tom Perez, Department of Labor
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez will be credited with forever changing the nature of retirement advice.
After suffering years of slings and arrows from opponents in the Department of Labor's battle to reshape its original 2010 rule to change the definition of fiduciary under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Perez stepped in and reenergized support for the rulemaking three years into its revamp. He used his political acumen, labor roots and sharp speaking skills to get the rule to the finish line.
Perez's stint as the former Labor Secretary for Maryland “stood him in good stead in that he understood how to break a logjam,” said Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America.
While Obama Administration backing was viewed as a game changer in cementing the final rule's eventual completion, it was Perez's personal commitment and willingness to listen to concerns from industry as well as political detractors on Capitol Hill that sealed the deal. “He went on a listening campaign,” Roper said. “That helped him understand the concerns of rule skeptics, and to distinguish those concerns from the efforts of rule opponents who were never going to be won over.”
The revamped rule that was finalized in early April “was significantly different from the 2010 proposal in ways that made it easier to sell to skeptical Democrats on the Hill,” Roper added.
Perez said at the April 6 event at the Center for American Progress to announce the final rule that DOL “had a very lengthy and deliberate process,” and the final rule proves that DOL “listened and made changes.”
Roper, a staunch supporter of the rule from start to finish, opined that Perez “understood where the compromise lay that would produce a rule that would satisfy supporters and skeptics alike.”
While Perez has stated that the new rule will be able to withstand legal challenges, detractors maintain that the rule, while better than the initial rule in some areas, will still open a Pandora's box of unintended consequences — mainly depriving low- and moderate-income savers of the advice they need.
Ken Bentsen, chairman and CEO of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, an opponent of DOL's rule, stated after the final rule's release that he was most concerned with “the nature by which the government advocated for the rule,” and that the rule premise was based on that notion that “the brokerage industry's business model ‘rests on bilking’ their clients.”
Supporters of the final rule are bracing for political and legal attacks. “We have to remain vigilant in supporting the rule on the Hill,” said Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, the CFP Board's top lobbyist.
Case in point: Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., who sponsored the Retail Investor Protection Act, bipartisan legislation passed in the House that would require the Securities and Exchange Commission, not DOL, to take the lead on crafting a fiduciary rule, worked closely with House leadership and members of the Education and Workforce Committee to introduce a resolution in mid-April under the Congressional Review Act “to stop [DOL's] ill-advised rule.”
Mohrman-Gillis is also expecting an appeal to be filed against DOL's final rule in the court of appeals.—Melanie Waddell
Cam Marston, Generational Insights
Cam Marston is a translator. Not of language per se, but of culture. Not of idiom, but of idiosyncrasies. He explains the nuances of different generations, most notably those of younger people, as employees and partners and clients, to owner-advisors and their partners who are overwhelmingly white, male and members of the baby boomer generation (and in other industry groups as well). He employs a homespun, gentle humor (with barbs) to point fun at the quirks of the different generations — including his own, Gen Xers: “Gen Xers are the most cynical, unhappy, unpleasant, unlikable people you’ll ever come across,” he says during his presentations. “If you think of someone you can't stand, there's a good chance they’re a Gen Xer.” Generalizations? Sure. Funny? You betcha. But the carefully crafted one-liners shouldn't mask the serious education Marston provides. The life experiences, parenting styles and motivations of each generation are different, so if you want to attract and serve clients, and employees and partners, who come from generations different than yours, listen up and learn.—Jamie Green
Chris Paulitz, Financial Services Institute
The face of FSI is clearly Dale Brown, who's appeared on the IA 25 list nine times out of the 14 years the list has been published. Or perhaps it's one of the broker-dealer leaders who hold volunteer leadership positions at the association, such as current chair and Cambridge President Amy Webber. But there's another consistent, knowledgeable and effective force at FSI. Chris Paulitz is quietly influential as the head of membership, sponsorship, marketing, communications, media and events for FSI.
Paulitz started his career as a journalist, and among the media, he's known as an easy-going, insightful PR pro who's clearly an advocate for the industry while remaining respectful of journalists’ different mandates. In his position there can be different ways of measuring success, but the numbers tell the story for Paulitz: the growth of FSI's individual and corporate membership, its successful live events for BD executives and advisors and, most important for an advocacy group, its waxing influence in Washington. Having spent nearly 11 years on Capitol Hill as a communications advisor and director for two senators, Paulitz knows that the most important metric for someone in his position is not which bills or DOL regulations get passed, but to whom you have access. Measured that way, Paulitz and FSI are extremely successful.—JG
Clara Shih, Hearsay Social
A pioneer in the social media industry, Clara Shih developed the first social business application on Facebook as a side project in 2007, which led to the birth of Hearsay Social two years later.
She admits she never saw herself working within the financial services industry.
“Frankly, Wall Street firms found us,” Shih said. “They said, ‘These life events that you find — the fact that someone has just gotten married or had a baby or changed jobs or is thinking of retirement — those are exactly the trigger points around which we want to talk to clients.’”
Shih found herself in a large and underserved market when it came to social media.
“Because of regulatory compliance, advisors can't use all of these digital marketing tools that are available. That's why you end up with […] advisors who have either no website or they have websites that are worse than the nail salon or the grocery store down the street.”
Hearsay Social no longer focuses just on social media, finding advisors’ needs were larger.
“We realized that advisors have to connect and engage with their clients on every digital channel,” Shih said. Last year, Hearsay launched the OmniChannel, a marketing and sales platform for advisors that covers social media, advisor websites, advisor email marketing and compliant text messaging.—Emily Zulz
Colleen Bell, Cambridge Investment Research
Why would an independent broker-dealer that successfully pioneered the BD fee business be worried about complying with the DOL's fiduciary rule released April 6? That seems to be the modus operandi at Cambridge Investment Research, which doesn't leave its business model or compliance issues to chance. Exhibit No. 1 for Cambridge's proactive approach to meeting the regulatory challenge imposed by the fiduciary rule is Colleen Bell, who earlier this year was named to the new position of first vice president of fiduciary services, with responsibility for preparing Cambridge and its independent contractor reps for complying with the DOL fiduciary rule. The division at Cambridge has drawn on existing teams that work on advisory services and retirement planning issues to prepare for the rule long before April.
Bell has been at Cambridge for 10 years; prior to that she was an SEC examiner. How will DOL enforce the fiduciary rule? “We’ve seen some sweeps already from DOL,” Bell reported, though mostly in the form of audits of retirement plans. However, “we need to be prepared to work with those auditors” on both the plan side and the IRA side.—JG
(Photo courtesy of Betterment.)
Jon Stein, Betterment
Betterment's had a heck of a year. With the launch of Betterment for Business, its robo-401(k), and Betterment Institutional, a digital platform to aid advisors, it's grown the number of customers it serves from 50,000 in January 2015 to 150,000, while assets have grown from just over $1 billion to over $4 billion.
CEO and co-founder Jon Stein started in the financial services industry at First Manhattan Consulting Group. “In my years working with banks and brokers,” he saw “they were building products, not really building advisory services,” he said.
That led him to start Betterment in 2008, right in the middle of the recession. “On the one hand, there was something of an opportunity because there was distrust in the traditional financial institutions, and at the same time, I think a lot of the traditional financial institutions were distracted by regulatory concerns and keeping their businesses afloat.” Stein saw an opportunity to bring “trusted advice” to consumers and to “make that advice accessible to anyone who wants it.” The consumer platform was officially launched in 2010.
The future of financial services is in advice, he said, not products. “Our goal is to be our customers’ central financial relationship. We want to continue to build out more advice, more financial planning, to really give our customers a holistic sense of what they should be doing with their money.”
Betterment isn't necessarily competing with other robo-advisors or with traditional advisory firms, but with the “do-it-yourself kinds of brokerage firms; the traditional big firms, the Vanguards, the Schwabs, eTrade, Fidelity, etc.”
As for the moniker “robo-advisor”? He said, “We don't mind it. We think it wasn't originally meant to be a complimentary term.” The term is a useful shorthand for consumers to understand the service, but it also “lumps everyone together,” Stein said.—Danielle Andrus
David Grim and Stephen Luparello, SEC
SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White has been the public spokesperson championing the agency moving ahead on its own uniform fiduciary rule for advisors and brokers, but David Grim and Stephen Luparello have been toiling behind the scenes to make it happen.
White said recently that the agency is “without doubt” working on its own fiduciary rule and that Grim, head of the SEC's Division of Investment Management, and Luparello, head of the agency's Division of Trading & Markets, and members of their staff are discussing the “parameters of recommendations” regarding such a rule with SEC commissioners.
But two former SEC executives have differing opinions about whether the SEC can actually pull it off. Bob Plaze, a partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP in Washington, has said that the two divisions’ “different interests” regarding the rule's outcome will stymie progress.
Former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt told IA, however, that “Steve and David are excellent division directors,” and that “my sense is they will be in constant touch with the chair and the other commissioners as they work out their differences.”—MW
Ed O’Brien, eMoney Advisor
Ed O’Brien typifies the kind of person that this year's IA 25 seeks to honor. A person of deep competence in his specific field (in O’Brien's case, advisor technology) who exhibits broad knowledge of advisors’ challenges (gained over 30 years toiling in Fidelity Institutional's advisor technology trenches) and a record of producing solutions for advisors matched by a passion for the independent advisory industry.
A holder of a U.S. Patent with experience overseas, in March O’Brien was named CEO of eMoney Advisor, which Fidelity majority acquired last year, replacing the estimable eMoney founder, Edmond Walters. While it began life as financial planning software for advisors, eMoney's trump offering may well be its emX digital wealth management platform, designed for end clients but provided through advisors.
As Michael Durbin of Fidelity Wealth Technologies said in announcing O’Brien's ascension, “I’m confident he will help us further establish eMoney as the strongest ally of advisors seeking to meet the growing high-tech and high-touch expectations of their end clients.”—JG
Eric Clarke, Orion Advisor Services
The key to serving advisors’ unique technology needs is integration, according to Eric Clarke, founder and CEO of Orion. “Every advisor we work with is unique. The way they deliver value to their clients is unique,” he said. “We believe every advisor should have the ability to choose the systems that are the best fit for their firm and will enhance their ability to add value to their client experience.”
Since founding the firm in 1999, Clarke has grown Orion to serve over 800 advisory firms with $280 billion in assets under administration by helping them meet their individual challenges, whether that's helping them integrate their disparate systems, serve their clients better or reduce the costs caused by increased regulations.
“As the regulatory requirements of advisors increases, we’re big believers that advisors need to use technology wisely so that they can not only efficiently serve their current client base but also their future clients,” Clarke said.—DA
Fred Reish, Drinker Biddle & Reath
Since the DOL released its final fiduciary rule in early April, ERISA guru Fred Reish has been answering questions from existing clients at all hours of the day and night, and his client roster is ballooning.
That's not surprising, really, for an attorney who's been steeped in ERISA law since “before there was an ERISA,” he likes to quip.
Reish, based in Drinker Biddle & Reath's Los Angeles office, serves a nationwide clientele of hedge funds and mutual fund managers, RIAs, insurance brokers and broker-dealers, as well as banks and trust companies. But it's broker-dealers that are clamoring for his help in deciphering DOL's rule.
The changes for BDs in DOL's rule “are revolutionary and highly disruptive,” Reish said. “These rules are truly complex.”
For BDs, the biggest challenge is that DOL's rule is “essentially based on a fee-for-service concept, and [those regulations are] being applied to a transaction-based industry.”
What's more, he added, “the fiduciary standard is different from the suitability standard and more demanding.”—MW
(Photo: Shane O'Neill)
Naureen Hassan, Morgan Stanley
Charles Schwab seemed to have found the perfect leader for its robo-advisor initiatives in Naureen Hassan, who joined Schwab in 2003 from McKinsey. The initiative — rolled out for retail clients in March 2015 and for advisors in June 2015 — amassed $6.6 billion in assets by March 31.
Intelligent Portfolios’ success drew attention not just to Schwab but to Hassan, and Morgan Stanley lured her away to lead the strategy and marketing of digital tools and platforms for the wirehouse's 16,000 financial advisors and 3.5 million clients.
Hassan, tapped as the firm's chief digital officer, remains in San Francisco, where she can keep tabs on the latest Silicon Valley developments.
Why the move? “My decision […] relates to my views of the future of wealth management,” Hassan told IA. “I believe successful firms in wealth management will combine the power of relationships through a financial advisor with the ease, simplicity and convenience that technology enables.”
Like many in the industry, she says robo-advisors cannot replace their human counterparts, but, the Princeton and Stanford Business School graduate asks, why not let technology do what it does best? “Modern technology has the power to simplify advisors’ lives by automating mundane tasks — opening accounts, rebalancing portfolios — freeing them up to spend more time with their clients,” she explained.
The plus side for clients is that more technology means less time and energy spent on paperwork. “Now it is about managing your finances anywhere and anyway you want — online, mobile, video,” Hassan stated.
“The winning firms will be able to combine the power of financial advisors with leading-edge technology. Morgan Stanley […] is incredibly strong with one part of that combination. I wanted to help complement that strength with technology to lead the industry,” she said.—Janet Levaux
Jane Jarcho, SEC
When Jane Jarcho is talking, advisors’ ears should prick up.
Not only has she headed the SEC's advisor/investment company exam program since 2013, but she was also named in February as national director of the agency's Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations.
Jarcho oversees about 600 lawyers, accountants and examiners responsible for inspections of RIAs and investment companies.
Under her leadership, advisor and investment company exams increased more than 27%, with OCIE initiating targeted exams in the areas of cybersecurity, never-before-examined investment advisors and investment companies, alternative mutual funds, fixed income funds and retirement accounts.
Jarcho was the first SEC executive to sound the warning bell that the agency would be cracking down on advisors’ cybersecurity preparedness. The second round of cyber exams started last October, but will primarily take place in fiscal 2016.
The agency is said to be proposing this spring its rule to require that advisors receive a third-party audit.—MW
Jason Carroll, Live Oak Bank
It's no secret that succession planning is the financial services industry's bête noire. Despite the number of owner-advisors approaching retirement age or already there, the rate of succession planning remains alarmingly low. A large part of the problem has been the lack of funding. Enter Live Oak Bank.
The prevailing 30-70-5 structure of a buyout — with a buyer putting down 30% in cash and a seller carrying 70% of the value of the deal over five years — has been an onerous proposition for many advisors, said Jason Carroll, managing director and senior officer of investment advisory lending for Live Oak.
“Our addition to the market has resulted in a paradigm shift: Now, an advisor can borrow the capital that they need,” he said.
Live Oak uses the longer-term, low-interest loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration to lend capital in dedicated industries. The bank only hires domain experts who have had solid experience in each of those industries, Carroll said.
“We’re not speculative lenders,” Carroll said. “We want to see the financials of the past two years, even if [financial advisory] businesses are so cash flow definitive that you know what you will get, even though they’re very well planned and are, for the most part, well-run firms.”—Savita Iyer-Ahrestani
Jim O’Sullivan, High Frequency Economics
You probably don't know his name but you should if you want to know where the U.S. economy is headed. Jim O’Sullivan, the chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, is one of the most accurate economic forecasters for the U.S. working today.
MarketWatch has named him Forecaster of the Year every year for the past five years, plus eight of the last 12 years. Reuters honored him as the top U.S. economic forecaster for the past two years in a row.
These are not easy accolades to get given the volatility of the U.S. economy and the global economy, which impacts the U.S.
O’Sullivan bases his forecasts on the study of U.S. economic indicators, or what he calls “the key drivers of markets day to day and week to week, which ultimately set the tone.”
He likens his study to “reading a map,” which requires first knowing where you are so you can set a course for where you want to go.
He studies multiple economic indicators but his favorite is weekly jobless claims, particularly the four-week moving average, which smooths out the data. “Jobless claims are ultimately almost infallible in setting the tone for the economy broadly.”—Bernice Napach
Kate Healy, TD Ameritrade Institutional
TD Ameritrade is putting its diversity money where its mouth is, and Kate Healy is leading that charge. Ask the managing director of marketing and leader of the firm's Women's Leadership Initiative to describe some of the projects the firm is working on and get comfortable, because there are a lot.
There's the RIA Career Exchange. There are the two grants and 12 scholarships (two of which are dedicated to underrepresented groups) to support financial planning programs and students. There's the intern guidebook series to help advisors build a sustainable internship program in their firms. There's the support for non-TDAI industry events that are dedicated to bringing more women into the industry. There are the dedicated networking opportunities for women and students at TD's conferences and the conference sessions and the student résumés highlighted in the conference app.
It all comes down to sustaining the future of the RIA industry, Healy said. “We need to increase the pipeline of people who are coming in [and] just by dint of the population, they need to look different from what we have now.”
All that work is paying off, too. Healy said that in the last year, 49% of entry level positions at financial planning firms have been filled by women. “It's encouraging to see that we’re making progress. However, we still only have 23% of CFPs who are women,” she said. “We still need to build up that support layer.”—DA
(Photo courtesy of Commonwealth.)
Kol Birke, Commonwealth Financial Network
A decade or so ago, Kol Birke, SVP of technology product evolution at Commonwealth, attended an after-work class on how to unstick conversations that get stuck.
Despite being the only financial professional in the room — all the other attendees were therapists — Birke had a keen interest in the subject matter because, he said, “so much of financial planning is about human relationships, conversations and complex interpersonal decision making.”
With Commonwealth's support, Birke entered a master's program in Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. The discipline is based on the premise of promoting positive mental health, Birke said, to allow an individual to flourish. Since completing his degree, Birke — who is a financial behavior specialist with Commonwealth's Advanced Planning team — has parlayed his knowledge into helping Commonwealth's advisors “have good conversations with their clients to promote good financial behavior.”
Even the best of us are innately swayed toward bad financial behavior. “I might have an advisor coming to me and saying, ‘I have a 70-year-old client who is spending too much money on her irresponsible son, how do I unstick her?’” he said. Advisors need to constantly help their clients through these and other impasses. In Birke's view, the best way they can do this is by getting to know their clients as intimately as possible to build and nurture a lasting relationship that is based on trust and openness.
The great enabler that is technology makes that process possible, Birke said.
“When technology is well-designed, it is perfectly consistent,” Birke said. “A well-designed alarm clock, for instance, will wake you at the same time every day. It is perfectly rational, it doesn't make emotional decisions, and it is instantaneous and tireless.”
Marrying technology and behavior in an optimal way acquiesces to human fallibility and creates a positive framework around it.
“We don't let that fallibility bother us — we create a world around it,” Birke explained.—SI
Laurie Belew, FPA NexGen
Calls for financial literacy programs in high schools aren't just for the benefit of a more informed consumer base. For Laurie Belew, 2016 chair of the FPA NexGen community, those programs are another avenue for young advisors to enter the profession.
“People want to be a doctor because they have an experience with their doctor,” she said. “It's not like a junior high student is going to meet with a financial advisor.”
That early introduction is especially important when many financial planning undergraduate programs aren't part of the business schools, according to Belew. “People have an interest in finance,” she said, but “when you get there, you don't learn about this whole other area of how to help people with their money.”
Belew is also a partner and senior financial advisor at FJY Financial. Her firm supports younger advisors by working in teams so they start working with clients early. “If we can avoid putting young planners in a back office crunching numbers, that brings so much more satisfaction and value to their careers, and sets them up long term to be successful lead advisors,” Belew said.—DA
Lex Sokolin, Vanare | NestEgg
Lex Sokolin's financial services story starts in high school.
“It was the ’90s, and I made websites as an 18-year-old,” he said. That creative part of his brain got put on hold for four years during his first foray in financial services at Lehman Brothers. While at Lehman, Sokolin was inspired when he had to cull unprofitable accounts.
“From the point of a 24- or 23-year-old who needs financial advice and who has at the time a lot of respect for everyone around you — that sucks,” he said. “Essentially everyone like me is getting fired as a client.”
So in 2010, Sokolin created NestEgg Wealth, a technology company and RIA that helped pioneer online wealth management in partnership with financial advisors.
“The idea for NestEgg was to combine those challenges with the solutions of the consumer web and ETFs,” Sokolin said. “In 2010, this was quite a new idea.”
In 2014, NestEgg was acquired by Vanare, which has since helped the platform commercialize and expand.
Sokolin believes “bitcoin and blockchain” and “artificial intelligence” will be the next evolution in financial services.
“Robo-advice is about making business processes and automating them and putting the consumer web front on it, whereas these things will really change the financial product, and continue to challenge and change the role of the advisor,” he said.—EZ
Lori Hardwick, Pershing
While holding a series of top jobs at Envestnet over 16 years — most recently as group president of advisory services — Lori Hardwick could be found at an unusual place for a top executive: manning the Envestnet booth at advisor conferences. When asked why, Hardwick would say she liked to maintain direct interaction with end clients — advisors — and conferences were where she could find them. As the COO of Pershing, named earlier this year to replace Lisa Dolly who assumed the Pershing CEO job, Hardwick is expected to maintain that advisor-centric approach, while calling on other skills she has exhibited throughout her career at Nuveen and elsewhere.
Don't be fooled by Hardwick's pleasant demeanor and smiling face: She's also a hard-nosed businesswoman who at Envestnet was responsible for sales to both broker-dealers and RIAs, two constituents who are heavy users of Pershing's platform. She's no stranger to technology, either, knowing that training users to be effective users of technology platforms like NetX360 is at least as important as developing that technology.
“Our best ideas,” she said in a previous IA cover story, “always come from our clients; they’ve never steered us wrong.”—JG
Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, CFP Board
The CFP Board of Standards didn't really have a public policy agenda until Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis came on board in July 2008, a few months after CFP Board moved its headquarters to Washington.
Since then, Mohrman-Gillis has lobbied lawmakers and regulators to ensure that the CFP Board — as well as the Financial Planning Coalition — now has a legitimate seat at the public policy table.
“One of my original goals [was] to enhance the [CFP Board's] relationship with regulators, executives and policymakers, and to build coalitions to achieve our policy objectives,” she said.
She was instrumental in building the Coalition — which includes CFP Board, the FPA and NAPFA — to push a three-pronged policy agenda: fiduciary accountability, regulation of financial planners and increased oversight of advisors.
She's also been a regular fixture on Capitol Hill, testifying in support of DOL's fiduciary rule. While she applauds the final rule, the fight on the Hill and in the courts to compromise it isn't over. Congressional Review Act legislation disapproving the rule was introduced in mid-April, and Mohrman-Gillis expects an appeal to be filed in the court of appeals.
With her public policy success behind her, Mohrman-Gillis now moves on to heading CFP Board's new Center for Financial Planning to build a more diverse planning workforce.—MW
(Photo courtesy of Mariner Holdings.)
Marty Bicknell, Mariner Holdings
Marty Bicknell, the CEO of Mariner Holdings, is above all an innovator who knows how to build a company. For example, the firm, which is celebrating its 10 anniversary this year and has exploded in size from $300 million to over $30 billion, has never had a minimum requirement for its wealth advisory operation known as Mariner Wealth Advisors.
Also, its advice givers “have no responsibility to get new clients,” said Bicknell. That's the job of business development professionals.
Underlying it all is a founder who is very entrepreneurial but doesn't micromanage and a firm that is “very planning-centric — separating wealth advice from investment advice,” said Bicknell. “Investments are a just a component. We want our advisors to be planners.”
Bicknell was very familiar with the services that wealth advisory clients need when he founded Mariner Holdings in 2006, as he had already spent almost 16 years as a financial advisor at A.G. Edwards, where he was SVP of investments.
Bicknell named his company Mariner Wealth Advisors as a metaphor for the services the firm provides clients, namely assistance to navigate their financial future.
In recognition of its success, Barron's has included the firm in its list of Top Independent Financial Advisors every year from 2009 through 2014, and Forbes included the firm in its 2015 list of Top Wealth Managers.
Another example of Bicknell's innovative entrepreneurship? To address the industry's shortage of young advisors, he started the Mariner School of Financial Planning, which partners with several universities to provide paid internships for college students, providing the experience of working in financial advisory business and the opportunity for Mariner to hire some of them.—BN
Mark Kantrowitz, Cappex
It's not surprising that Mark Kantrowitz has become the go-to guy for all things related to paying for college. When he graduated from MIT in 1989, with degrees in mathematics and philosophy, he had more money than he started with, said Kantrowitz.
But not everyone can find such lucrative work in their college years, no less afterward. The average college student of the class of 2015 graduated owing $35,000, according to Edvisors, a financial aid website that Kantrowitz headed from 2013 through 2015.
That sounds like a lot of money but it isn't, according to Kantrowitz, if that graduate earns more than $35,000 a year. A student's debt load “should be less than his or her starting salary,” he noted, so that it can be repaid in 10 years or less.
“The student loan problem and defaults are mainly among students who don't finish college,” said Kantrowitz, who has immersed himself in issues about college financial aid for about 30 years.
Kantrowitz's first website, FinAid, became the No. 1 site for students and parents trying to figure out how to finance a college education. He left FinAid in 2013 to build up Edvisors, and took on a new challenge early this year when he became the publisher and vice president of strategy at Cappex, yet another college financial aid site.—BN
Neesha Hathi, Charles Schwab & Co.
After 12 years at Schwab in various leadership roles, including Advisor Technology Solutions and Schwab Performance Technologies, Neesha Hathi recently moved to the firm's retail business. However, as executive vice president of investor services, she hasn't completely cut ties with RIAs. She leads Institutional Intelligent Portfolios, the RIA-focused counterpart to Schwab's digital investment platform. “I get to work on both the retail offering for Intelligent Portfolios, as well as make sure that we continue to enhance it based on what advisors need so they can leverage the platform,” she said.
Clients’ expectations for how they interact with their advisors has been changing, Hathi said, and “advisors are doing a great job nowadays embracing that change.”
For example, they expect service on a much shorter timeline; advisors who are still doing quarterly performance reviews are not meeting those needs. Investors want a “much more dynamic experience,” she said. “They live in the world of Amazon and Uber, so having a personalized relationship that's not just local but also virtual, having access to their advisor and their information anywhere they want to, any time they want to” is critical.—DA
Richard Sincere, Sincere & Co.
If you don't know Richard Sincere, then you’re probably not a member of NAPFA, the fee-only advisor group whose conference exhibit halls always feature a Sincere & Co. booth. If you think he's just one more advocate among the bevy of marketing partners for mutual fund companies whose booths fill fee-only and other RIA advisor meetings, then you don't understand how his company consistently represents undiscovered money managers whose interesting stories are only matched by their performance. With his background in banking and RIA custodial services (Citicorp and Fidelity, to name just two), Sincere understands what advisors need and want when they’re looking to outsource their investment management responsibilities. With his understated but significant charitable work and his strict ethics, matched by an easy-going Midwestern mien, Sincere is also that most rare of marketing experts: Like a good glue, he connects the right people to each other, regardless of whether such networking connections benefit him directly, though it does benefit the entire advisor community.—JG
Stuart DePina, Envestnet | Tamarac
If you want to understand how technology can make advisors of all kinds more efficient, talk to Stuart DePina. If you want a model for how a technology partner can better serve its clients, listen to Stuart DePina. If you want a vision for how an entrepreneur and his entrepreneurial firm can thrive after an acquisition by a larger firm, look at Stuart DePina. DePina is a serial tech entrepreneur whose mostly RIA clients embraced Tamarac's portfolio and client management software that welcomes third-party applications as well. It's kept improving the software through constant interaction with its users.
“We give clients a voice,” said DePina, group president at Envestnet | Tamarac, “and turn voice into action,” though for many advisors, “execution is the hardest part.”
Since its purchase by Envestnet in 2012, DePina has continued to successfully guide Tamarac as part of a larger public company, no small feat in itself, while remaining the calm voice of technology understanding and advisor-client advocacy.—JG