Here’s a talented next-gen financial advisor who’s changing the game, if not leading the charge: Douglas A. Boneparth, 33, with $75 million in AUM, is catering to super-high-level millennials making $400,000 to $1.2 million a year. How is he crushing it — and in fiercely competitive New York City, at that? Boneparth talked to ThinkAdvisor in an interview.
Newly named as a millennial voice of CNBC’s Digital Financial Advisor Council, Boneparth, founder of indie boutique Bone Fide Wealth, was a fully licensed Certified Financial Planner at age 21. He is now the Financial Planning Association of New York’s NexGen director and the CFP Board ambassador for New York.
While there is a growing, though small, number of millennial FAs serving millennials, few are developing a practice built upon a clientele of high-achieving, affluent millennial professionals. In their early- to mid-30s, Boneparth’s clients include freshly minted law firm partners, investment bank and private equity shop directors, and emerging entrepreneurs, all of whom need help with their personal finances and investing.
The genial MBA cuts a dashing figure in finely tailored suits, colorful ties and stylish pocket squares. Recently, he was seen providing commentary on the CNBC-produced “Nightly Business Report,” which airs on public TV, and NBC-New York news.
Boneparth, managing assets of 115 households, started out as a college intern at his CFP father’s Ameriprise indie practice in Boca Raton, Florida, which caters to high-net-worth retirees.
At age 24, in the depth of the global financial crisis, the Florida native relocated to New York, where he was hired by another Ameriprise CFP to handle operations and administration. On the side, he built his own book of business, soon launching an independent practice himself, with Commonwealth Financial Network as his broker-dealer.
By the time he entered NYU Stern School of Business part time to earn an MBA, Boneparth had notched eight years’ experience as an advisor. At Stern, networking industriously with like-age classmates, he soon decided it was the millennial demographic on whom he would now focus.
Last summer, he published “The Millennial Money Fix” (Career Press), co-written with his attorney wife, Heather J. Boneparth.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Douglas, on the phone from his office in New York’s financial district. Though he is decades away from retiring himself, as an advisor he often brings the topic of retirement to the forefront. And what he has smartly written about it is thus: “Maybe [millennials’] retirement is not retirement at all. Maybe it’s called financial independence … If millennials are unabashed creators and constant disruptors, our ultimate goal should be to achieve something greater than doing nothing.”
Here are highlights of our conversation:
What’s different about super-high-level millennials, and do you use a special approach to serve them?
Certainly their incomes are higher, which means they’re able to achieve their goals more quickly. But they have less time [available] and are in a pressured work environment. So the way you service them is extremely high-touch. A lot is demanded of you, like how quickly you can turn around the detail to the answers and solutions you provide.
Is the advisory work itself a challenge?
From a financial planning standpoint, their plans aren’t the most complex. But the [challenges] of what’s going on in their lives — how quickly things are happening, like getting promoted, making more money, buying homes, starting families, changing jobs — are extremely complex. That’s where I’d say my knowledge, experience and relatability shine.
Do you help young entrepreneurs with their businesses too?
Absolutely. I’m able to leverage my MBA and the fact that I’m an entrepreneur and small-business owner myself.
Why did you choose to focus on high-level millennials?
At NYU Stern School of business — which I attended nights 2011-2014 — it dawned on me that I had all the components to seek out and market to millennials.
How have you been able to acquire those who are high net worth?
The purpose of putting myself through a prestigious business school wasn’t just to learn more about finance and management but to surround myself with like-minded individuals who had the same drive and dedication in their respective fields that I had. We were all going through the same things in our lives, and they needed help.
I understood what was going on with student-loan debt and paying for expensive educations. I understood the story of really hard-working millennials, coming into their professional adult life only to get hit by the recession. Those challenges affected my wife Heather and me personally too.
So while getting your MBA, you prospected for these clients?
Business school was a way to network and acquire centers of influence. I knew that if we all supported each other and if they knew what I do, they’d introduce me to other high-net-worth people who would need my help, or that they themselves might. In some cases, they referred their family members.
When you relocated to New York City from Florida in 2008, you’d been a licensed FA for four years, mentored by your father, Andrew Boneparth, an independent CFP with Ameriprise. Were you concentrating on younger clients there?
In Boca Raton, where I grew up, I focused on affluent retired New Yorkers. That gave me an interesting skill set: I was hanging out with everyone’s grandparents. I grew up in the equivalent of 1941 New York!
You came NYC in October 2008, which was the depth of the financial crisis. Quite a time to start out here.
When I got off the plane, people were walking out of Lehman Bros. with boxes of their stuff.
Wasn’t it hard plunging into the New York financial services scene during such an awful time?
I was able to take the four years of what my father had taught me and plug into another independent Ameriprise advisor’s practice. He took me in as an associate advisor. In exchange for running the operations and administration, I got to build a book of business of my own on the side, which I took with me. I always made sure I had equity in those clients.
Is your youth always a plus in obtaining new clients?
There’s a talent shortage in the industry. So if you’re younger, you’re at an advantage. It’s allowed me to work with a demographic that’s harder to reach for most advisors age 50 or older. They have a harder time tapping into the type of client I want to work with. In the short term, that might not affect them as much — but in the long term, it will. An advisor who’s more established might not see the immediate value.
Obviously, because you’re a millennial, it’s easier for you to reach millennials. But what’s the key to connecting?
I’m more relatable to another 33-year-old than a 65-year-old advisor is because they may not be able to relate financially to someone 30 years their junior.
How do you market to these high-level millennials?
I had realized that the future of marketing would be [geared] toward the Internet. So I use digital marketing, such as social media, to [establish] credibility and a sales funnel [system to convert prospects to clients] to generate business. The funnel is a way to create awareness that I’m servicing this particular demographic. It’s a way to package my experience and credentials.
Where does selling come in?
I don’t need to sell anyone anything. What I do for clients is [clear] through the online content about me and the prestige that comes from being a part of CNBC’s Digital Financial Advisor Council and being the CFP Board Ambassador for New York and the NexGen Director of the FPA of New York.
How else do you prospect via networking?
Because my wife is an attorney, I have pretty good exposure to the legal world and to other young attorneys. Also, I grew up in Boca, a pretty decent [high-net-worth] area; and my friends there provide me with a network I have access to.
How did your high-level millennial clients react to the February market correction, and how did you handle their reaction?
Through financial planning, most of them are disciplined enough not to pay too much attention to market volatility.
They didn’t phone you?
Not a single one of my young clients called me with concern. But I reached out to them through our newsletter and blog. And they saw me on national television or commenting in the newspaper on what I thought about the correction.
And what did you think about it?
That the market was reacting to interest rates moving quickly and essentially recalibrating itself to a higher-rate environment. I also thought that this is the first time in a long time that we’ve seen that kind of volatility and that naturally there would be an overreaction.
How do you typically communicate with your top millennial clients?
Mostly through email, telephone and Skype. My model is to be available to clients in whatever way they wish to communicate with me. I wish texting were allowed.
Do you also meet them face-to-face?
Yes. With this younger demographic, technology does play a very big role. But in New York, everything is so close together that I still do a good deal of face-to-face at, say, coffee shops.
You’re located downtown at 7 World Trade Center, where firms like Morningstar, Moody’s and Spotify have offices. How does being in the Wall Street district help you?
Location, location, location! It’s a prestigious address. So from a marketing perspective, it certainly says “business.”
You’re quite the dapper dresser. Does presenting yourself with such style help?
You need to have nicely tailored suits, make sure your shoes shine — and know how to color-coordinate! It’s paying attention to details and putting yourself out there in a way that matches the type of service you’re providing. Your appearance is an expression of who you are.
What’s your long-term goal?
I think I’m trying to be the next version of Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey. My mission is to spread financial education and literacy to our society.
That’s good for other people. Is it good for your practice?
Absolutely. Converting that influence into business shouldn’t be too difficult. I already do that today.
What plans have you to expand your practice?
There’s probably room to double the size of my business before I’d have to think about whether or not I want to scale it.
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