“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.)
Top Advice for Today
“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?”
When the pandemic ends, we should see “a transformation in how people do business,” he said. “Hopefully, most firms have learned about their strategy, structure, people and processes, risk management and the ability to work remotely. All these things are becoming more exposed for good and for bad.”
What’s Next for Advisors?
Looking ahead, the advice profession “is starting to evolve like some others, such as accounting and law. It’s not the person who is involved in the process; it’s a team, an ensemble, a group of individuals who work collectively,” he said.
Solo practices, which depend on one person to do everything, “tend to be very vulnerable,” as the key individual doesn’t “have the time, wisdom, knowledge and experience to do it all,” the ex-consultant pointed out.
“It’s great to see this business is evolving from one-ball jugglers to truly holistic enterprises with multiple individuals being part of them,” he said.
“Probably the most fulfilling part [of my career overall] has been interacting directly with growth-oriented advisor firms that are figuring out their next steps and being part of their process of becoming a better business,” Tibergien explained.
Looking back at his work with Pershing, “It’s been extraordinarily fulfilling to take the lessons I learned from consulting and apply it to our customer relationships — not just adding value, but delivering greater value with firms making critical decisions,” he said. “And that’s the work I consistently enjoyed.”
Turning to industry events, he said it’s also been great to speak and “host some pretty incredible people who, in my normal life I wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet or interact with.”
At the yearly Pershing Insite events, “I was very pleased to interview Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback. That [discussion] had the best chemistry,” he explained.
Interviewing former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright “was quite profound, as she has this incredible personal story and her contributions to this country have been immense,” he said.
“It’s beneficial anytime you can engage with people who teach you something, can make you laugh, are authentic and give us one bit of wisdom we can use in lives, which these events have done for me,” Tibergien explained.
The type of challenge — and fun — is appealing to him. “All of us have something in our backgrounds that we wish we could tap into more,” he explained, “… the ability to get on stage and do something like that.
“Frankly, after I take my retirement break and decide — on a part-time basis — what I’d like to spend more time doing, I think I’d like to figure out how to take the stage in the right kind of settings and do other things that are interesting, along with writing and working in some advising capacity,” Tibergien said.
But first things first. “My advisor has been reminding me, ‘Stay retired for the summer.’ I keep getting lots of reminders that I’ve worked for a number of years. It’s hard to just stop, but I can take a break and figure out what to do.
That’s the plan,” he insisted.
Reflecting on all the writing he’s done in these pages, “It’s been a joy to keep at it,” Tibergien said. “I’ve got some history as a journalist and find writing one of the best activities I can do.”
“As a writer, I tend to think in chapters, and each chapter has had its moment of suspense, excitement, tension, happiness and tears,” he explained. “You see all those elements that come into play, and I’ve had seven different jobs or careers.”
Clearly, he is already itching to write the next chapter. Meanwhile, we’ll end the current Pershing/columnist chapter with the final words of Tibergien’s February 2003 IA contribution.
“The list of formulas for success could go on and on. But the simple fact is that building a practice that brings in more revenues, generates more profits, and better serves clients is within the grasp of every financial advisor. We’ll tell you what you need to know. The rest is up to you.”