Christopher S. Smith of Dover, Delaware, joined Edward Jones after earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees in business in 2008. He then went on to earn his CFP designation at Georgetown and the related Accredited Asset Management Specialist designation.
Over the past decade, the advisor pursued his professional and personal dreams with careful guidance from mentors, peers and others. Along the way, he used a pay-it-forward approach to working with clients, which he credits for his success.
How and why did you begin your career in wealth management?
Around age 10, many of my family members gave me a nickname that sticks with me to this day — “Wall Street.” Every birthday and holiday, my family members would give me money as gifts. I would promptly put that money in the bank, and it was always a joy for me to see my savings account grow.
I was very intrigued to learn more about the nickname I had been given. I found out that Wall Street is a place where people can invest their money to make more money. This idea was absolutely intriguing to me and prompted me to invest my own savings as a teenager and to eventually attend graduate school to earn my MBA.
While in graduate school at Hampton University, I knew I wanted to be in wealth management, but did not know which firm would be the best fit. In a leadership development class, I observed a presentation given by a principal from Edward Jones named Emily Pitts. She described how great her firm was, how they treated their clients and the career opportunities within her firm.
I felt this was a company I needed to look into. That summer, I was able to land a financial-advisor internship working at an Edward Jones office in St. Louis. That experience proved to me that the culture Emily Pitts spoke of was true, and at that moment, I knew this was the firm for me.
What have you learned from your supervisors and/or colleagues? Does one of them stand out — and, if so, can you tell us why?
At Edward Jones, we have a culture of volunteerism. There is always someone there who has a dedicated interest in your success and can offer helpful advice. An individual that I have learned a great deal from is my regional leader Joe Quig in Hockessin, Delaware. Joe Quig is a very inspirational individual and opened the first Edward Jones office in the state of Delaware in 1996.
He taught me to take a long-term view of my career and to start building a business based on where I want it to be in 20 years. He encouraged me to earn my CFP designation. I feel this knowledge base allows me to better understand the needs of my clients and find the best ways to help them reach their financial goals.
Most important, he instilled in me the importance of putting my clients first and showing them that I truly appreciate them for choosing to do business with me. I still think of Joe whenever I welcome a new client, because he helped me embrace the solutions-based process early in my career — which helped me quickly and accurately find the best way to help each individual investor and become a successful advisor.
What has Edward Jones taught you that has most helped your career?
Edward Jones has one of the best (if not the best) cultures in the industry. The most helpful thing my firm has taught me is to always put the interest of our clients first. That advice alone pays so many dividends.
Clients appreciate and know when you are putting their interest above yours. It allows me to earn their trust early on in our relationship and gives me the opportunity to go deeper in helping them to plan and achieve their short-term and long-term goals.
We are taught this philosophy as an advisor, but it also is great that our firm puts us in a position to deliver on that expectation. It does this by allowing our advisors to only sell high-quality investments and encourages us to build well-diversified portfolios. We also are given all the tools we need to document our clients’ goals and assess them along the way to make sure we are on track to helping them to achieve their goals.
What is the most significant change you have seen in the industry?
The most significant change I have seen in the industry was the stock market crash in 2008 and 2009. At that time, I was just beginning my career in the wealth-management industry. There was a lot of shock and panic, and many investors voiced their concerns that the stock market was coming to the end.
During the crash, I had to rely on my training from Edward Jones. There was nothing I could reference from my undergraduate or graduate education that provided guidance as to what to do or when this downturn would end.
Even with this difficult time, my firm taught me to get out there and meet as many people as possible. I was encouraged to listen to as many people as I could, understand their concerns and needs, and see if I could offer any guidance.
That advice was key, because many people I interacted with had many questions and concerns but were not hearing from their advisors. I was able to be the listening ear and comfort that many people needed during this time, which allowed me to earn their trust and business. Taking that steady, time-tested approach showed me how important it is to stick to a plan regardless of the emotions surrounding the industry and the market.
What is the biggest challenge facing you and your team today, and how are you responding?
Currently in our office the biggest challenge we are facing is aging clients. When I started my business, I focused my client-acquisition strategy on retirees. Over the years, many of my retiree clients have aged, which has presented new challenges. With my aging clients, the new challenges we are facing are cognitive issues, long-term health care and death.
Our team has implemented many strategies to make sure we help all our clients prepare for these concerns. When anyone in our office has concerns about a client’s cognition, we let our client know about our concern and get their permission to allow their family member of choice to assist with the financial matters going forward.