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Longtime TV Host Consuelo Mack Imparts Some Advice for Advisors

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Critical retirement issues advisors ought to bone up on and why prescient experts alarmed by the housing bubble were considered “party poopers” are some of what Consuelo Mack, anchor of public television’s “WealthTrack,” devotes time to in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

“Consuelo Mack WealthTrack,” as her series is officially called, begins its 17th season this year.

PBS-distributed and distinguished by its focus on long-term diversified investing in stocks, bonds, real estate, insurance and collectibles, the show was launched by Mack in July 2005.

USA Today lauds the journalist for her “quietly intelligent, thoughtful interview style aimed at a well-informed audience.”

A short list of Mack’s handpicked interviewees includes Jeremy Grantham, GMO co-founder (he is slotted for a fourth chat with her the weekend of March 20); economist Ed Hyman, Evercore ISI founder; Bill Miller, chair of Miller Value Funds; Nobel laureate economist Robert Shiller; and David Swensen, manager of the Yale endowment.

In our interview, Mack, also the executive producer of the program, discusses areas that financial advisors might do well to learn more about, according to some esteemed interview guests who educate FAs.

Mack also describes viewer pushback during the housing bubble, when a few ultra-perceptive guests repeatedly warned of an impending calamity.

As for Mack, what gave her credibility — and an edge — when breaking into financial broadcasting was having spent six years in financial services at Merrill Lynch, Legg Mason and Mitchell Hutchins.

In the interview, she recalls her chiefly positive experience as a Merrill stockbroker despite a definite distaste for cold calling.

Before launching WealthTrack — arguably the first financial planning-oriented TV show — she anchored the syndicated “Wall Street Journal Report” for 13 years as well as “The Asian Wall Street Journal Report,” syndicated throughout Asia.

Also on her resume: CNBC reporter for “Strategy Session” and anchor of “Louis Rukeyser’s Wall Street,” on CNBC and PBS, during the show’s final five months prior to Rukeyser’s 2006 death.

Mack, whose production company owns “WealthTrack” — available as a podcast too — moved into on-camera work at a small local New Jersey TV station. This was while her attorney husband, Walter Mack, was busy heading the strike force against organized crime at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. The two have been wed for 45 years.

ThinkAdvisor recently spoke with Mack, on the phone from her Midtown Manhattan office. She  relishes picking the brains of top investors and economists and is proud, she says, of her show’s reputation as “the antidote to Jim Cramer.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: What’s one important criterion when choosing “WealthTrack” guests?

CONSUELO MACK: We try to have people who aren’t on television a lot and are overexposed. We want the interviews to be special. In the pre-interview, I tell them my goal is to educate our audience — “I’m not trying to be Mike Wallace and surprise or embarrass you.” But I do try to ask some tough questions.

What were guests discussing in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis?

We had people on, like [Nobel Laureate economist] Robert Shiller, saying that the housing bubble “is really dangerous”; others came on and said the market was in great shape. The naysayers seemed like party poopers. So the people who were warning about a financial crisis became more and more unpopular as guests. They got vilified. Viewers wrote in: “Why are you having him on again! It’s a broken record!” So after a few years, it was very difficult to have a bear on.

At the start of your career — mid-1970s — you were a broker at Merrill Lynch. How was that experience?

I was right out of [Sarah Lawrence] college. The market was a disaster. Merrill Lynch had to hire women [settlement of a gender discrimination suit]. I know that was the reason I got the job offer since I was clueless [about brokerage]. But all the guys took me under their wing and really helped me.

How did you like the job itself?

As a stockbroker, I was given 60 cold-call cards a day. I was just miserable doing that. The only things I sold, out of about 21 products, were export-import bank notes. You weren’t paid commissions on those, but it was the only thing I felt comfortable selling. When the market went against me, I’d come home and cry.

After Merrill, you worked on Legg Mason’s institutional trading desk. Then you moved to the top research firm at the time, Mitchell Hutchins, later acquired by PaineWebber and then by UBS. What was your job?

Assistant portfolio manager and junior analyst. I interviewed lots of people, including Henry Kissinger, one of their consultants. I was much better at interviewing — I wasn’t cut out for making investment decisions for people.

And then you got into television. How did that come about?

After I took a course in journalism at The New School [for Social Research], I was hired by a small New Jersey station to do market commentary. I still had my day job at Mitchell Hutchins, and three nights a week l drove to NJ to talk about the market on live television. It turned into a full-time job.

Some of your WealthTrack guests educate financial advisors. How do they think FAs are doing?

They feel they need a lot more education [especially about retirement planning]. There’s still a cohort out there who basically are just giving investment advice and not doing total financial planning. There’s a real dearth of good education and credentials among many financial advisors.

You had on Jamie Hopkins, director of retirement research at Carson Group. What did he have to say?

A lot of advisors are kind of clueless about the decumulation stage and creating retirement income streams. He said advisors need new skills and strategies to develop income streams for life.

Teresa Ghilarducci, labor economist and economics professor at the New School, has been on your show, too. What was her focus?  

She discussed her research, which found that many middle-class baby boomers are going to be impoverished in retirement. The two-thirds of the population that don’t have [wealth] are facing pretty dire circumstances. It’s a huge crisis.

What’s been the conversation on your show about FAs advising clients about Social Security?

There’s a tremendous amount of misinformation about it, which results in missed benefits. Financial advisors didn’t really think about Social Security, because they didn’t consider it important, until the baby boomers started to retire. But now, with the death of the defined benefit plan, it has turned out to be super-important.

What have been a few of your own “Action Point” personal finance suggestions that you present at the end of every show?

Have a plan to save regularly, and make it automatic. Another is that gold is the insurance policy you should have in your portfolio.

Has being a woman helped or hindered you in your career?

It wasn’t a hindrance. When I went into television, financial [TV] journalism was in its infancy. I had a huge advantage in that I’d had an investment background. So I had credibility. I didn’t think of myself [in terms of] one gender or the other — I always thought of myself as an individual. I did my homework and knew what I was talking about.

You didn’t encounter gender discrimination, then?

Right. Had I stayed on Wall Street, maybe my experience would have been different. I worked there for six years, and it was great. Everyone treated me with respect and mentored me. It was a really fabulous experience.

Your name, Consuelo, which is Spanish, means “consolation.” Are you of Hispanic descent? 

No. My mother’s name is Consuelo, too. I’ve never gotten the straight story about where “Consuelo’ came from. I think my grandmother read it in a book and liked it. It was a very popular name at the turn of the last century. Over the years, several Hispanic organizations have offered to honor me with awards. I’ve had to tell them that, unfortunately, I’m not the real McCoy!

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