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, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and has exploded in size from $300 million to over $30 billion and 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 — “to drive clients to the firm,” he said. “Instead of having one advisor to serve everyone, we have them becoming a specialist in a certain area.”
It’s an approach that has helped Mariner not only serve and attract clients but also recruit advisors as well as trust officers, CPAs and other financial professionals who serve clients. Each is talented in their specialty but not necessarily as good at bringing in new business, according to Bicknell.
Separating Wealth Advice from Investment Advice
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.”
To that end, Mariner Holdings, based in Leawood, Kansas, is organized around three primary buckets: Mariner Wealth Advisors, founded in 2006, which has $14 billion in assets and 160 advisors; Montage, an asset management firm with $19 billion in assets; and a Customized Solutions bucket that includes an investment bank, wealth advisor for the mass affluent and other entities. Altogether, Mariner Holdings has 31 firms under its umbrella and about 650 employees.
There are also buckets of specialization within the wealth advisory business, based on the amount of client assets: under $1 million, $1 million – $10 million, $10 million – $25 million, and $25 million and above. The idea is that each group of clients has different needs, which require advisors who are especially adept at servicing those needs such as estate planning for clients with millions of dollars in assets. “We think all clients deserve the same service but not all need the save advice,” said Bicknell.
Bicknell was very familiar with the services that wealth advisory clients need before he founded Mariner Holdings in 2006 because of his professional and personal experience. He had already spent almost 16 years as a financial advisor at A.G. Edwards where he was a senior vice president of investments, leading a staff of consultants who provided customized wealth management solutions for high-net-worth individuals and their families as well as public and private corporations and charitable organizations.
He also helped manage his family’s wealth. His father, Gene Bicknell, was the largest franchise owner of Pizza Huts and sold his franchise to Merrill Lynch in 2006 for a reported $615 million.
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.
Taking Advantage of Opportunities in a Changing Industry