By Daniel D. Williams and Andy Stonehouse
Every year the selection process for the Advisor of the Year has interesting twists and turns and the
finalists, while holding onto their unique qualities, take on a common theme as well. This year is no
different. As the SMA staff sifted through nearly 100 nominations to get to a final five, shared traits emerged: integrity, trustworthiness, a commitment to community service and an ability to listen to their clients, among others. These traits, we learned, build a genuine connection that develops between advisor and client. In our conversation with these advisors something else materialized–the core mission of developing a plan, the best plan for the client, versus the pushing of a product.
Eventually, success, true success as an advisor, boils down to answering two essential questions: What does the client want, and what does the client need? The five finalists featured here answer those better than most.
The 2010 Advisor of the Year will be announced at Senior Market Advisor Expo, held Aug. 25-27 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. All of the finalists will be in attendance at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 26, for the 2010 Winners’ Circle, a 90-minute roundtable discussion of the strategies of becoming a top advisor and their strategies for helping their clients succeed, even in hard times.
If such a thing as a natural-born advisor exists, Nevada-based Chris Abts would fit the bill. “It’s in my blood,” he says about his career in the financial industry. “I’m a third-generation advisor.”
After college in Utah, Abts worked for his dad’s firm, where he really dug in and learned the estate planning side of the business. “Many advisors don’t understand estate planning, but it helps put an overall plan together and you’re able to look at it with the clients as a long-term exit strategy.”
Eventually, Abts moved on and set up his own shop where he focuses on a three-pronged client strategy: Tax planning (“Where we look to find money falling through the cracks”); income planning, where the advisor and client partner to discover the client’s financial goals and various options and, once they’ve got the first two items squared away, “We find out what is their risk exposure versus their risk comfort level.”
Visualizing the plan
As for estate planning, he tells his clients not to “worry about legacy planning until you can feel good about your financial plan.” Once that’s been squared away, Abts goes to a whiteboard so the client can visualize their plan and watch it take shape. Eventually, “we’ll bring in an attorney to create legal documents that the client needs. Years later I can sit down with the surviving spouse and children and go over the estate.”
Talking to Abts, you get a sense of how he makes an immediate connection with his clients and puts them at ease. His voice has the warm delivery of a jazz radio station DJ. There’s also a passion in his voice when he talks about helping clients develop a plan that carries on to future generations. “Helping a client put a long-term plan in place for them and future generations, and hearing them say, ‘I want to put my grandchildren through college’ … I connect with that. I’m passionate about that.”
Something else he’s passionate about is sticking to “conservative core values.” Abts found that a conservative approach to risk served him well during the financial downturn of nearly two years ago. “When the market dropped and the phone didn’t ring it meant we’d done a good job.”
While he wasn’t deluged with phone calls, Abts has seen an influx of new clients in recent times. “There has been a rush to safety.”
Abts makes sure he’s the advisor they rush to by promoting himself in the Reno area as a financial ambassador. He’s become a ubiquitous presence there with regular TV appearances and a dance card full of speaking engagements in addition to quarterly events where loyal clients bring friends, who become key referrals. “The goal should always be to increase your referrals. If we are serving our clients, they’ll refer us.”
While there’s been talk that the financial advisory industry is aging, just like the rest of the country, there are more than a few young advisors joining the ranks and helping to keep the business dynamic and cutting edge. Twenty-eight-year-old Josh Jalinski is one of the most motivated of that new wave of advisors.
And while Jalinski says that new tools such as converting Facebook “friends” to clients, blogging or even hosting a sometimes politically charged radio show are great innovations, it’s the relations he has with his clients that helps set him apart. That and his unstoppable work ethic.
“I grew up in the middle of the Jersey Shore, which is a hotbed of retirees, and I started working as a lifeguard when I was 14–and that’s when I noticed I seemed to relate more to the 70-plus generation than to my own, or even to boomers like my parents,” Jalinski says. “I was kind of like this Republican, Alex P. Keaton-type kid with a lifelong Democrat grandmother who lived with us.”
Off to an early start
Jalinski’s father was a banker and Jalinski followed suit, starting at OceanFirst Bank when he was just 18. He took both a Bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and a Master’s in Divinity (“I can strike up a conversation with anyone, at any time,” he notes), married at 21 and began taking his first steps as an advisor. “A few years into it, I was a 25-year-old kid with acne and no credibility, so I had to do something to get over the hump.”
Jalinski says that his biggest reputation-building move was his decision to start hosting a radio show on WOBM, a popular AM station best known for playing Sinatra and the standards. By hitting his older target market, he says he’s able to use the show (which now airs daily) to develop interest in seminars.
He’s also not shy to include a lot of his conservative-leaning ideas in the discussions on his show or on his blog. “It’s sort of the Fox News approach to financial planning,” he laughs. “I do get the most response when I’m overt about it. I just don’t bring those kind of discussions into my seminars or my talks with clients.”
And just what is the secret to a million-dollar year, when many of his contemporaries are working at Starbucks or living in their parents’ basements? Hard work is crucial, he says, as well as covering all of his bases with a full suite of designations, including the Series 6, 7, 24 and 66 and various insurance licenses.
“I’m like a machine sometimes … we do 30 appointments a week, but that’s the way to do it. I would so much rather help someone with just $100,000 to his name–that alone is sort of like a financial ministry to people. And if you do 30 meetings a week, success just becomes a numbers game.”
William J. McLaughlin
William McLaughlin recognizes “the lost art of listening” as one of the central pieces to his success. In some ways, he sees his role like that of a priest, where the clients come to him in the form of a confession. They pour themselves out to him. And McLaughlin listens.
“I hear what they say. It’s important to hear what they say and to get to know what makes them tick. I wish there was a silver bullet. That would be easy, but it’s not like that. The key is to have integrity, to be transparent.”