The most influential people in our lives are the advocates and educators who speak on our behalf and teach us how to stand up to the challenges we face. Advisors fill that role for clients as they guide them through the various challenges of their lives: retirement planning, saving for children’s education, creating a legacy to hand down to children and other beneficiaries.
The advocates and educators featured here do the same for advisors, by helping them decipher unwieldy regulations to avoid running afoul of regulators. They’re working to attract a qualified new workforce that will help them serve the new generation of clients. They’re helping them think past CRM and social media to see how technology will really change the industry in the future.
Here are nine leaders from the 2016 IA 25 who are bringing clarity to advisors’ day to day work.
Laurie Belew, FPA NexGen
Although some advisors are still asking where to find young advisors to bring into their firms, Belew noted the new question on everyone’s mind is how to engage them and show them financial services can be a fulfilling career.
“Just in the last 10 years since I’ve been in the industry, the conversation has really changed from, ‘What do we do with these people?’ to ‘How can we make this a career for people who are interested?’” she said.
As chair of FPA NexGen, one way to do that is by focusing on the community. “As we’ve grown through grassroots efforts, people are looking to connect on a regular basis in their local communities, so we’re trying to support those efforts,” she said. “Every community is different, but as much as we can help [advisors] structure and help them overcome challenges, we’re trying to position ourselves to be a great resource for them in that regard.”
Marty Bicknell, Mariner Holdings
Marty Bicknell, the CEO of Mariner Holdings, is above all an innovator who knows how to build a company from the bottom up, extending its reach in ways that don’t follow the standard models in the financial advisory industry.
For example, Mariner Holdings created Montage, its asset management division, in 2010 to serve advisors outside Mariner Wealth Advisors. Following the financial crisis, when it became clear to Bicknell that mass affluent clients outside of Mariner needed financial advice but weren’t getting it, Mariner created a new firm, FirstPoint to serve that population. It didn’t develop a robo-advisor as other firms had done but created a full-service advisory firm as a “solution for the advisor who doesn’t want to reduce his or her minimum,” said Bicknell. All they have to do is refer that business to FirstPoint.
“I’m a firm believer that we’re in a bull market for advice,” he said. “Clients of all makeups and sizes want advice, but the way we’re going to deliver it over time will change.”
Kol Birke, Commonwealth Financial Network
As the senior vice president of technology product evolution and a financial behavior specialist at Commonwealth, Birke brings together two of the most pressing issues advisors face: delivering excellent client service and implementing efficient technology.
He views technology as an amplifier, something that provides the fundamental bedrock for the proper functioning of the behaviorally-based approach to financial planning that is Commonwealth’s.
He pointed to self-driving features in cars to help prevent crashes as an example of behavioral science amplified by technology. “In the same way, we could design a client portal that, when they dial in, shows them how bad the market is doing and that will then prompt them to make [better] decisions. Or, we could show them through technology that even though the market is bad, it will recover, and we can do that by coming up with solutions and visuals that will prompt positive behavior.”
Fred Reish, Drinker Biddle & Reath
Reish, based in Drinker Biddle'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, following the long-awaited release of the Department of Labor’s final fiduciary rule on April 6, it's broker-dealers that are clamoring for his help in deciphering the 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.”
Mark Kantrowitz, Cappex
As the founder of FinAid, an online guide for students and families on how to pay for college, publisher of FastWeb, a free scholarship matching service, founder of Edvisors, another financial aid website, and now publisher and vice president of strategy at Cappex, yet another college financial aid site, Kantrowitz has become The Guy for college financing information.
Cappex combines the attributes of FinAid and FastWeb with information about college admissions, Kantrowitz said, adding that it has “very interesting ideas about how to do things differently that will benefit both colleges and students.”
For example, when parents are trying to decide whether to save for their retirement or their children’s education, he said: both. “So long as the interest rate on the [college] loan is higher than the rate paid on [retirement] savings you’re better off saving for college AND retirement,” said Kantrowitz. “You’ll end up with more money for retirement than if you had just borrowed for college and repaid those loans.”
Cam Marston, Generational Insights
Marston’s research at Generational Insights shrinks the gap between different generations by educating their distinctive members about each other. It might seem like a soft science, but it’s proved valuable for financial advisors who are increasingly working with clients and other advisors who are from a different generation.
“The core of what I do has a simple nucleus,” Marston said. “The boomers and the matures tend to be heavily influenced by the past, while millennials look to the future.” Advisors’ 25-year-old association advisors are less likely to be impressed by their accomplishments and hard work, and more likely to be impressed by what they do for clients and the community.
Marilyn Mohrman-Gillis, CFP Board
As the executive director of the CFP Board’s new Center for Financial Planning, Mohrman-Gillis will fill a critical role in supporting the financial services industry: making sure it’s sustainable. The Center’s mission is to attract a younger, more diverse workforce of qualified advisors to support changing client demographics.
She will continue to serve as the Board’s managing director for public policy and communications until a successor is named.
Mohrman-Gillis was the driving force behind the Board’s public policy agenda after joining in July 2008, and was instrumental in forming the Financial Planning Coalition, a joint project between the CFP Board, the Financial Planning Association and NAPFA that focuses on fiduciary accountability, regulation of financial planners and increased oversight of advisors.
“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.
Jim O’Sullivan, High Frequency Economics
There’s no shortage of economic soothsayers reading GDP and S&P tea leaves, but O’Sullivan has made a name for himself as one of the most accurate economic forecasters in the U.S. MarketWatch has named him Forecaster of the Year in eight of the last 12 years, including the past five years in a row. Reuters honored him as the top U.S. economic forecaster for the past two years in a row.
Considering the volatility we’ve seen over that time period, that’s no small feat.
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 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.”
Lex Sokolin, Vanare | NestEgg
In 2010, Sokolin created NestEgg Wealth, a next-generation technology company and RIA that helped pioneer online wealth management in partnership with financial advisors. Now, as partner and chief operating officer of Vanare, which acquired NestEgg in 2014, Sokolin combines his tech expertise with an openness to how future tech will change advisors’ world.
For example, Sokolin says bitcoin and blockchain, and artificial intelligence will revolutionize how advisors deliver financial advice.
“I think both of those are going to be really transformative and are going to be quite different from what robo-advice is about,” Sokolin said. “Robo-advice is about making business processes and automating them and putting the consumer web front on it. Whereas these things will really change both the financial product and continue to challenge and change the role of the advisor.”