“What’s the biggest challenge facing financial advisors today? The stock market? The economy? The threat of war in the Middle East? Managing client portfolios in the new investing environment? Based on over 20 years of experience consulting with advisors, I’d have to say ‘none of the above.’”
That’s how Mark Tibergien started his first “Formulas for Success” column for this publication 13 year ago, and his thinking still applies to the business of advice right now.
The soon-to-be-retired CEO of BNY Mellon|Pershing’s Advisor Solutions worked at a newspaper and on the radio in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula early on, then moved to financial media and later consulting at Management Advisory Services. From there, he moved onto the accounting firm Moss Adams.
“In these pages every month,” he wrote back in ‘03, “I’m going to explore what the most successful practices do to get that way, and what you can learn from them to increase the success of your own practice. After all, if you can’t make a living as a financial advisor, you probably won’t be very helpful to your clients, either.”
(Comments on Tibergien’s retirement and his influence on the profession of advice are compiled here: Industry Leaders Share Tributes to Tibergien.)
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“I joined Pershing just at the beginning of the Great Recession, and now I’m leaving around the start of the coronavirus,” Tibergien said in a recent interview. “My career [there] has been bracketed by cruel events.”
In this context and as the client of an advisor, “The one thing that makes the difference is calming me down and putting things into perspective,” he said.
“This [pandemic] is something that we’ve never experienced before,” Tibergien added. “Being the voice of reason at a time of emotion is the best thing anybody can do for their clients.”
The executive has been sheltering in place in Manhattan. “The challenge is keeping preoccupied while you’re worried about your health, finding ways to get exercise, relax, read, listen to music and do all those things that help us get through it,” he said.
Several decades ago, he and other partners went without paychecks for some time “to ensure the business would keep operating and that the employees would keep getting paid,” he shared.
“We were confronted with the challenge of what to do. We … ended up selling the business to Moss Adams. That was our safe harbor,” Tibergien said.
“That was an extraordinarily stressful time,” he added. “But on the other hand, it teaches you some things about the decisions you have to make in times of crisis.
“First, focus on your core. Don’t forget what you are in business for. All the other things you’ve thought about doing should be put on hold,” Tibergien explained.
“Second, truly support and value what’s most key to the business. For most firms that’s the people who work for the company. You have to be thinking about them very clearly,” he said.
“And third, even though you may have your own moments of doubt, you still have to convey calmness and [give] a sense of direction to [those] who’ve never gone through something like this before,” the industry veteran said.
“This is when leaders rise. And, how you deal with this is a true test of how you’ll come out at the other end,” he added.
When asked about shifts he’s seen during his career, Tibergien said: “What’s surprised me most is how quickly some wealth management firms have become real businesses and how slowly some firms have not transformed into enduring enterprises.”
And, he added, “Fires and floods create new growth.” The Great Recession “cleared away a lot of brush and opened up possibilities for so many firms to do different things. We saw an acceleration of RIA firms that became real businesses.”
In the current crisis, Tibergien is asking: “How resilient are firms? What was their backup plan? Did they have the type of depth, strength and perspective to serve their clients well?”