The idea is to “create wealth, not just make money,” says the ambitious Watkins, 28, who wants to “lead the new generation” to a secure future.
Right now, his clients — sports figures, musicians, actors, writers, directors — are still on the way up. But he aims to guide them financially all the way to stardom — and in the process, turn himself into a star advisor.
“I’ve created alliances now that years from now will help make me a sought-after, top producer,” he says from his World Financial Center office in downtown New York City. The FA blends financial astuteness with a hip, chatty style.
Growing up poor in downscale Mount Vernon, N.Y., bordering the Bronx, Watkins, who is half-African American and half-Hispanic, was an honors student but consistently told by guidance counselors and others to ditch his dream of becoming a Wall Street stockbroker. But a steadfast believer in his abilities, Watkins would have none of it.
Now, not only is he a financial advisor but, in under a year, has already accumulated assets of more than $726 million.
Merrill has high expectations for Watkins. “When Jeff gets in front of clients, especially from sports and entertainment, he’s really able to connect. They trust him,” says Gregory McGauley, director of the firm’s World Financial Center Office.
At the moment, Watkins has his own book of business; in the future, he envisions partnering up. “It’s harder [nowadays] as a stand-alone advisor to make up for the dwindling amount you can charge. So to get more assets, the emphasis is on groups — and it will be in the future.”
Most evenings find Watkins hobnobbing with the in-crowd at fancy publicity parties and events. “I’m entrenched with the pacemakers who paint the social landscape here,” he says. “But my goal isn’t to be a socialite. It’s to make sure I can effectively [use] these resources to help build a clientele and translate that into money in my pocket,” he says.
Watkins has had no problem stepping into a world light-years from his disadvantaged youth. Academically, he was a stand-out; but “I was shy and got teased a lot.” Now, at those ritzy, invitation-only events, he has “instant credibility. It takes you to a different level,” he says. “Recently I was talking to a couple of guys on the Knicks and a slew of football players who know players that are my clients. They said: ‘Oh, yeah — here’s my cell phone number’.”
The 6’3″ Watkins is athletic himself. It’s not surprising that he relates well with his clients. Often their economic background is similar to his own.
“I try to show them we’re the quote-unquote new money,” he says. “I’m pretty sure, I tell them, that when they were growing up, their situation was like mine: I never had a final advisor knocking on my door. It was more like bill collectors!”