Edward Jones’ Jennifer Marcontell

Edward Jones has 16,000 financial advisors nationwide, more than any other firm. Meet the company’s No. 1 FA, who, with more than $1 billion in AUM, manages more client assets than any other rep it employs. A Gen X Texas native who began as a trainee 18 years ago, Edward Jones’ top advisor happens, by the way, to be a woman.

Jennifer Marcontell, 47, unassuming, warm, yet cool-headed, has made financial planning the prime focus of her practice since joining the firm in 2000. Having started from scratch, she now serves about 400 mostly high-net-worth families locally and across the country.

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All Jones advisors are solo practitioners, the vast majority of whom are assisted by a single support person. But Marcontell’s practice, in Houston’s Baytown and centered on retirement income and distribution, is so large she has six branch office administrators to help.

The Houston native, reared north of Dallas in Mount Pleasant, has built her book almost exclusively upon referrals. A number of clients are chemical engineers — some of them business owners — who work in Houston’s big petrochemical industry.

ThinkAdvisor recently held a phone interview with Marcontell, who finds diversion at her and husband Wade’s ranch in Montana, where hiking mountains and fly fishing top the top advisor’s  leisure-time pursuits.

THINKADVISOR: Tell me about fly fishing for trout in the rivers of Montana.

JENNIFER MARCONTELL: It’s a sort of art because you need to have a technique with the fly rod. One time, when I was just about to walk out of the water, my husband, jokingly, said, “I don’t know if David Letterman is going to let you walk there. This is his land.”

What did you do?

I walked out of the river. [Letterman] lives in the next valley over from us. Most people that have a place [in the area] really enjoy the outdoors, and it’s something they want to share even though the property belongs to the owners, while the waterways are public domain.

What’s the secret to your success as an advisor?

The way I’ve approached investing is that everything we do has a logical reason. That has resonated with my clients. During those discussions, you uncover a lot more assets, too. When I started 18 years ago, advisors weren’t doing a lot of financial planning or talking about goals and purposes for clients’ assets — where they wanted to be in the future. They were talking more about individual investments and trading.

What have been your approach’s main benefits to clients?

By helping a lot of people plan, they have a lot more assets today than they would have without my helping to make sure they made the right decisions — including career decisions.

Why did you decide to be a financial advisor?

I discovered there was a real need for people to understand the power of investing their money. I felt I could do something that would have an impact on both the people I knew and that I would meet.

What prompted you to become aware of that need?

I was a young woman working in investor relations assisting with development of internal investments at companies, and sometimes I ended up with stock options. One day my husband and I met with a financial advisor to talk about what we should do with the options and how we should invest. Even though I was in the room, the advisor, who was a man, was basically talking to my husband.

As a woman in a male-dominated field, did widespread gender bias 18 years ago make it difficult for you at first?

One of my [early] clients, a retired attorney, came in and said, “My mother doesn’t understand why I would do business with a woman.”  I think her generation had a mindset that women had certain limitations. I said, “I’d like to meet your mother.” So I talked with her and tried to explain how in the future, there will be more women doctors and other female professionals, too.

(Related: Women Still Underserved in Finance: Edward Jones)

When you started at Jones, how challenging was it to prospect employing the firm’s model of literally knocking on folks’ doors?

Very challenging. But I still have clients that I met by going to their homes that way. The experience of seeing people where they live really helps you understand them. Lifestyle and what we surround ourselves with at home [reflect] our personality.

What helped you overcome the door-knocking challenge?

I had ways to do it in a safe manner. We didn’t have cell phones back then [for use in emergencies], so I made sure that I left information on my desk about where I’d be: If I didn’t come back, they’d know where I was. I always kept coming back!

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Why has the sole-practitioner model worked so well for you?

I’m responsible for my own productivity and what drives the business. That’s different from being on a team, where you have “a role.” I’ve always had a very high work ethic and work more than most people. I don’t know that, if I worked with a partner, I’d have had the same outcome.

Why?

With a team, one person [often] does more work than the others, but the credit can be given to someone else who maybe wasn’t the driving force.

What’s a key strength that’s helped you in life?

A positive, optimistic attitude. That’s helpful as an advisor because when clients are going through difficult times, they need someone who’s on their side thinking: What can we take out of this to make you stronger and feel better, and to tell them their future can be better than their past.

You work at least 60 hours a week, while raising two teenagers with your husband Wade. You’re busy!

I am. My fourteen-year-old daughter says, “Mom, you make me tired!”