As a young Bank of America mortgage underwriter, Michael Henley hated to constantly deliver bad news to people. So shortly after Merrill Lynch was acquired by BofA in 2009, he quickly answered a job post by Merrill that pushed his future in a sharply different direction.
And it was indeed the right move. After nine years with Merrill, Henley, with $930 million in AUM, just launched an independent advisory practice with his team of eight intact.
Henley is only 34. Six of Wyeth Private Wealth’s eight partners are in their early-to-mid-30s. In a realm where the average financial advisor is 50.1 years old, according to Cerulli Associates, Henley is a rare standout just by age alone.
Forbes ranks him #1 in Delaware in its “America’s Top Next-Generation Wealth Advisors” for 2018 and #42 nationwide.
In 2012, he took over leadership of an established team in Wilmington and grew it to “almost a franchise” within the wirehouse, he says.
Now the RIA, focused on affluent families, is helping to minimize the tax burden of chiefly active and retired DuPont management, a clientele built at Merrill. Dynasty Financial Partners provides back office and marketing support, and Fidelity is custodian.
Come December, Wyeth will be headquartered in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. Temporary offices are in nearby Chadds Ford.
A native of Virginia, who started out in the audit and control department of JP Morgan Chase before moving to BofA, Henley comments about his move to independence: “It’s overwhelming and exciting. But I’d rather be stressed doing this than anything else.”
THINKADVISOR: Has your youth helped you as an advisor?
MICHAEL HENLEY: It’s been a big differentiator. We tell families we have 20 to 30 years to go and that we continue to build our team by hiring younger and younger professionals. We want to add rock stars in their late 20s when we’re in our late 30s.
What’s the secret to your personal success?
I became a student of the business right from the beginning. I listen to [financial] podcasts in the car, the gym, walking the dogs. Even when my wife Amanda and I are vacationing, I’m on the beach reading about complex gifting strategies.
You listen to podcasts while walking your three dogs!
Yes. I’ve been following the independent space with Michael Kitces’s and Mindy Diamond’s podcasts about advisors who have gone independent and what it’s like.
Describe Merrill Lynch’s reaction when you told them you were leaving?
Merrill was shocked. I think they assumed I’d stay there for the rest of my career because I was legacy Bank of America. But if you’d ask the other advisors [former colleagues], they’d say, “Did you really think he was going to stay forever?” I’ve been such an advocate of the fiduciary model for years.
Why do you focus on tax-reduction strategies?
I’m a kind of tax geek. Looking out five to 10 years: What can we do proactively to help minimize wealthy families’ lifetime tax burden? I found that one of the biggest gaps in financial planning was tax advice. So at Merrill, I thought: What if I married tax planning and financial planning?
What was the firm’s reaction?