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Cutting-Edge Private Banker

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Kelly Coffey, chief executive officer of J.P. Morgan U.S. Private Bank in New York, currently oversees 1,500-plus advisors working with over $650 billion in client assets. She has had a long career at the firm and plenty of insights on advisor-client relations.

How did you get started in wealth management?

I like to think of myself as an accidental banker. I studied international affairs and French as an undergrad, and then went to get my master’s degree in foreign service at Georgetown. When I graduated, I really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to round out my finance skills before I figured out my next step.

Instead of getting an MBA like so many of my friends were doing, I thought it would be more interesting to get real world, on-the-job experience, and that’s how I wound up at J.P. Morgan. I only expected to work in banking for a couple of years, but here we are 27 years later.

When I first joined J.P. Morgan, I started in the investment bank, working in merger and acquisitions (M&A) advisory in Argentina. It was an exciting time to be in Argentina. The country was becoming more stable, and in many respects, it was like watching the international affairs that I had studied in college unfold in front of my eyes.

It also was a great challenge. Not only did I have to learn new skills, like how to value a company, I had to learn a new language.

It turned out to be an incredible experience on so many levels, and it taught me a valuable lesson — the importance of self-confidence. I was learning how to do things I had never done before, and I was constantly reminding myself — I may not know how to do this but I will figure it out. And then I would, and that would give me more confidence for the next time.

I also learned how financial services is about so much more than just finance. At its core, it’s a relationship business. You need to be able to listen to your clients’ needs, to understand their goals, and then use that to deliver the solutions that fit them best. That’s true when you’re working with corporations like I was when I was in investment banking, and it’s true working with individuals and families like I do now in wealth management.

How has your career at JPMorgan been?

I’ve spent virtually my entire career at J.P. Morgan. What’s been really great about J.P. Morgan is that even though I’ve been at the same firm for so long, I feel like I’ve had several different careers along the way.

I’ve always said that my career goals are actually pretty simple: to do interesting things, working with smart and interesting people, and to have the opportunity to build and broaden my skills along the way. And J.P. Morgan has helped me do just that.

I spent my first 24 years in investment banking in a variety of different roles — M&A in Argentina, I led the diversified industrials coverage group, I was head of equity, foreign exchange (of FX) and interest rate derivatives marketing, and I ran corporate finance advisory.

I made the move to J.P. Morgan’s Private Bank in 2013. Having been with the firm for so long, I already knew the strength of the platform and quality of the people. What excited me about the move was the size of the opportunity and the team-based approach the business brings to serving clients.

What struck me almost immediately after joining the Private Bank was how in many respects it is a microcosm for the broader firm. There are so many natural touch points between the Private Bank and the firm’s other lines of business. The same clients we help with banking, mortgages or specialized credit also go into our Chase branches — in fact, 40% of our Private Bank clients use a Chase branch monthly.

We also have a strong relationship with the investment bank, where we may have a business owner client, for example, who is planning on selling their company or wants to explore an IPO and could benefit from the investment bank’s expertise. And the investment bank works with CEOs who have complex personal financial needs that we can help through the Private Bank. Since we can work with clients in both capacities, it gives us a level of insight and understanding that’s hard to match.

What is the most significant change you have seen at the firm?

One of the biggest changes we’ve seen across the industry as a whole has been the pace and scale of global regulatory change. We have had to adapt — and quickly — to many new and complex regulations.

We have tried to be very measured in our approach and to take a long-term perspective so that we are building sustainable operational processes and controls. And we’ve made sure to do it while never losing sight of our clients’ goals.

What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the firm?

The biggest challenge is one that I also consider the biggest opportunity: technology. There is a lot of technology disruption happening across all the different parts of our industry, and it’s happening quickly. Silicon Valley and Wall Street may be across the country from each other geographically, but the connectivity between the two is growing every day.

This evolution means that clients want to interact with us on their terms: where they want, when they want and using the channels they want. And they want their banking experience to be just as easy and seamless as the other online experiences they’ve become so accustomed to.

That’s why we have made the digital platform a top priority at J.P. Morgan, and it’s one of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about. What we have heard in talking to clients is that although they expect to interact with their bank in new ways, they also want to maintain a personal relationship with their advisor. So we don’t believe that digital capabilities will replace the traditional advisor model, but rather complement it and ultimately strengthen the overall client-advisor relationship. That’s what we’re trying to do with our digital agenda — marry an innovative technology platform with the advice, insights and sophistication of our advisors.

When we think about digital, we like to think about it in two buckets — clients and advisors. Our clients want to do more with us digitally, from checking their account balances to executing trades to accessing our thought leadership — and everything in between. It’s our job to deliver all of those capabilities is a seamless and elegant way.

At the same time, we are using technology to empower our advisors to serve clients better. Technology is not only helping us automate previously manual process, like parts of our account opening process, it’s more quickly putting better data in our advisors’ hands so that they can be more agile in helping clients.

We also are looking at how we can better utilize big data at our firm. In other words, how can we use what we already know about our clients and their behaviors to systematically match them with the right solutions?

What challenges do you face in your career?

Financial services is a fast-paced, intense industry. To be a successful leader in that environment, you have to take a long-term perspective and can’t get lost in the news of the day. That can be easier said than done at times, especially during periods of extreme market volatility like we’ve seen over the past several years. So I make it a personal priority to carve out time to talk to advisors and clients every single day.

I ask a lot of questions. I ask clients, “What can we be doing better and what services or solutions do you need that we are not currently offering?” I ask colleagues, “What do you need to serve clients better?” The feedback from these discussions goes a long way in helping us to improve our business. The challenge is making sure to take the time to do it and not getting bogged down in the day-day-day grind.

What is the future of the employee-advisor model?

When I think about the future of wealth management, two things come to mind. Obviously, as I mentioned earlier, technology is going to play an important role in the evolution of the business, though we still think as technology as a complement to an advisor, not a replacement.

In the current landscape, we see some firms that are great at the technology side and some that have strong personal relationships. Ultimately, we believe that the firms that have the best of both worlds — innovative technology and strong relationships — are the ones that are going to succeed. That’s a charge we are trying to lead.

We also are seeing an increased demand for goals-based advice and services, and solutions that span a client’s entire balance sheet. This fits well with our approach as we have always focused on understanding clients’ goals — whether it’s transferring wealth to a family member, maintaining a certain lifestyle in retirement or developing a charitable giving plan.

When you approach clients that way, you can create better, more comprehensive solutions. Our clients need advice beyond investments. They need help with the credit side of their balance sheet, they need trust and estates advice and they need philanthropic expertise. That creates a tremendous opportunity to deepen your discussion with clients and help them with even more of their needs.


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