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Wealth Management for Wild Markets

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Think of Commonwealth Financial Network, and practice management guru Joni Youngwirth probably comes to mind, or behavioral specialist Kol Birke, or maybe even Wayne Bloom, Red Sox fanatic and CEO of the Waltham, Mass.-based broker-dealer giant.

One other area, wealth management, is of course a critical offering, and one that’s receiving more attention of late.

“Wealth management in general involves a lot of different components, so our wealth management platform involves a lot of different areas; asset management, investment research, annuity research, retirement consulting and advanced planning,” explains vice president Gavin Morrissey, who is responsible for all as well coordinating interdepartmental efforts across the firm’s platform. (He has also contributed to ThinkAdvisor).

Noting the broad yet consultative nature of the group, he says that it tries to be proactive about conditions or events that would affect the client’s portfolio.

“Of course, we’re reactive as well,” he adds. “When our advisors bring us a case, we are comprehensive and collaborative and have the full team working on it and approaching it from different angles, so nothing happens by itself or in a silo.”

The firm claims 1,500 recurring fee advisors, but Morrissey emphasizes that how an advisor (or rep) affiliates with Commonwealth “will not affect how we serve you, recognizing there are some compliance issues, of course.”

Morrissey graduated from Lafayette College with a major in economics before earning a law degree at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego and his LLM in taxation at the University of San Diego School of Law. With Commonwealth for the past 15 years, he’s worked in various departments, gaining what he says is a broad-based knowledge of the internal workings of a full-service broker-dealer. This allows him to provide a bridge between wealth management concepts and operational implementation.

Of course, wealth management increasingly involves the use of alternative investments. In the wake of the Medical Capital and Provident Royalty scandals that spelled doom for a number of competitors, is he conservative about what he allows on the platform?

“With our alternative investment offerings, I wouldn’t say we’re conservative; a more accurate term would be diligent,” he responds. “We have an entire due diligence team dedicated to ensuring products are appropriate. I know some firms will say ‘absolutely not.’ The issue is that high-net-worth clients, while not naming them as alternative investments, are demanding those types of strategies. Education, of course, has to go along with that to ensure advisors know how they should be used.”

As for current events in Washington, and how he sees them affecting advisors’ clients and their portfolios, Morrissey is direct. “If you’re waiting on Congress to do something that makes you scratch your head, you won’t have to wait long and you’ll have plenty to work with,” he quips. “When a political event happens we tell our advisors how we see it working out and how it will affect them and their clients, whether it’s the health care law, the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, or anything else.”

He concludes by noting current volatility, and how it might compare with past periods of market turmoil.

“Is it a volatile time in the markets? I don’t know how to answer that. I’m sure you could look back at market history and see plenty of crazy times,” he diplomatically states. “I will say this, Washington seems to have much more of an effect; by that I mean people used to invest based on fundamentals, which is how it should be. No longer; they have to carefully watch what Congress is doing, because it seems to have so much more of an impact.”

Check out Gavin Morrissey’s ThinkAdvisor contributor page.


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