The Bible says that, all things considered, children should not be punished for the sins of their fathers. A New Jersey financial advisory owner couldn’t agree more: Nine years ago, his father was found guilty of concealing in excess of $1 million in Swiss bank accounts, sentenced to three years’ probation and fined more than $900,000.
Father and son have identical first and last names — and the same middle initial. So when advisory prospects see press about the father’s misdeed online, they mistakenly think they’re reading about the son, and “some run for the hills,” Harry J. Abrahamsen tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.
Founder of Abrahamsen Financial Group, he is a 27-year industry veteran whom Goldline Research named “one of the most dependable wealth managers in the Mid-Atlantic,” as featured in Forbes.
But since 2011, his father’s legal woes have cost him.
“I had nothing to do with it, but it’s impacted my business,” asserts the advisor, discussing his father’s failure to file a Foreign Bank Account Report (FBAR) and report his Swiss accounts to the IRS. He calls the UBS FA who guided his father at the time “a bad advisor.”
In a separate phone interview with ThinkAdvisor, the elder Abrahamsen, 78, concurred with that assessment, adding that his son “has nothing to do with it — whatever the problem is, it’s separate from him.”
When the younger Abrahamsen, 53, appealed to the Justice Department to remove from the internet its press release announcing his father’s sentencing, Justice said they would do so only if he paid some of the fine, Abrahamsen laments. He wouldn’t comply.
In the interview, his father maintained: “I had in excess of $24 million in Switzerland, and the government took it from me. That’s all the money they’re ever going to get.”
A UBS spokesperson declined to comment for this article. The Justice Department’s public affairs office did not respond to requests for comment.
Despite the case of mistaken identity, throughout his frustrating ordeal Abrahamsen has maintained a successful independent practice, regulated by the New Jersey Department of Banking & Insurance, and has continued to add advisors, who now number 10.
That mix includes financial professionals with Series 7, 6, 63, 24 licenses from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and licenses to sell life and health insurance. The goal is to expand the group to as many as 40 advisors.
Abrahamsen dropped his own Series 6 and 63 licenses to be free of compliance restrictions in publicly discussing the issue concerning his father.
In his distinctive practice, the advisor specializes in insurance-based planning to reduce entrepreneurs’ portfolio risk.
And some of the good news is that the coronavirus pandemic has helped his business, as he explains in the interview.
He started out in financial services setting up pension plans for Guardian Life Insurance. In 2004, equipped with life and health licenses, he formed his independent advisory firm, based in Manasquan, New Jersey. A few years later, he added the FINRA licenses.
A certified financial planner, whose broker-dealer is Nationwide Planning Associates, handles the managed money side of the practice. The firm has $764 million in assets under management, for which Abrahamsen receives no compensation.
ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Abrahamsen, who was speaking by phone from New Jersey. He has just launched a YouTube channel to generate positive content. “I need to put better information on the internet and try to get this stuff about my father behind me,” he says.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
THINKADVISOR: Has the coronavirus pandemic helped your business in any way?
HARRY ABRAHAMSEN: The pandemic has been helpful because people are more open to having a very macro conversation. We marry actuarial science — insurance-based products — with managed money. You can’t solve it all with insurance, and you can’t solve it all with managed money.
What types of insurance vehicles are you recommending?
We use a lot of guaranteed products, like annuities and indexed annuities, that let people position assets in a way that doesn’t subject them to market risk.
How would you describe the wealthy prospects you’ve been speaking with during this unprecedented time?
In the last four months, I’ve talked to so many people that have a net worth of $5 million upwards to $30 million. They were referred to advisors in my group, and they’re trying to figure out where to put their money so that it’s protected.
What differentiates them, specifically?
They’re retired CEOs of $100 million companies. They manage either all or a significant amount of their money themselves and are looking for alternate plays.
What do you focus on when you speak with them?
Some of the insurance-based products fit into their philosophy, whether annuities or derivatives and call options. [I discuss] how to reduce risk when something unexpected happens — a black swan event, like 2008 [financial crisis] or the pandemic.
You experienced a personal black swan nine years ago when the Justice Department sentenced your father for concealing more than $1 million in Swiss bank accounts. He got three years’ probation with home confinement and was ordered to pay fines of more than $900,000. What do you recall about this?
I found out about it from a client and couldn’t believe what I saw when I went on the Internet — articles about my dad and a press release from the Justice Department. My father and I were estranged when this happened to him. I had nothing to do with it.
According to the Justice Department’s news release, UBS “help[ed] U.S. taxpayers hide accounts from the IRS” and in an agreement, “admitted” it “provided the U.S. government with the identities of, and account information for, certain U.S. customers of UBS’ cross-border business.” Was your father’s financial advisor with UBS?
Yes. The lesson he learned was that he had a bad advisor at UBS, a bad CPA and bad consultants.
In what way does this episode impact your business?
When prospective clients want to meet me and Google my name beforehand, they see articles about my father and the press release about his sentencing — and they think it’s about me because my father and I have the same exact name. The release doesn’t mention his age. And we both live in New Jersey.
What happens when prospects read that?
Some run for the hills. It also impacted my son, Harry J. Abrahamsen II. At the time of my dad’s sentencing, he was working with mortgages, but then he left the business.
Did you try to get the articles about your father removed?
I got some taken down, but I couldn’t do that with the press release. I found the Justice Department to be so offensive. They asked me if I wanted to pay fines for my dad. I was like, “Are you guys blackmailing me? I don’t have to pay my father’s debts!”
They gave you an ultimatum that they would remove the release only if you paid your father’s fines?
Yeah, that’s what they said to me.
And you told them “No”?
Of course. I told my father. We had made up. He said, “Don’t worry about it.” He doesn’t realize the impact this has had on my life.
When you meet with the high-net worth retired CEOs that you just mentioned, are they aware of your father’s case?
I bring it up in the conversation. I say: “By the way, if you’re doing any research on me, there’s another Harry J. Abrahamsen; and he has nothing to do with us.” A lot of people are OK with it. In fact, one — a prominent attorney — said, “I have the same problem.” His father is a lawyer who got disbarred. He understood because he lived it himself.
In general, what are you advising clients about retirement planning right now?
That this is a great time to understand going from the wealth-creation phase, which is people at work, to distribution planning, which is money at work.
You don’t advise rolling over a previous employer’s 401(k) plan into a new employer’s 401(k) plan. How come?
If your new employer’s plan doesn’t offer the same types of investment choices, you’re limiting your choices. Also, if you roll it into a general IRA, you’re offered a lot of flexibility because you can choose a different investment advisor.
Any other options?
You can implement strategies that most people don’t know about, like a 72(t) distribution strategy [withdrawing funds before age 59-1/2] to, maybe, pay your mortgage. [Not rolling over into another 401(k)] also opens up the possibility to, if you’re worried about market volatility, consider a fixed indexed annuity, which [it’s said] has no downside risk.
Your website indicates that you’re seeking “top sales talent.” What’s that about?
I’m constantly looking to recruit financial advisors to come over and be independent. I have 10 now. My goal is to recruit probably another 30 or 40 into my company. They would include people that are captive [in an employee channel] and want to go on the independent side.
What’s the compensation structure?
It’s their choice: If they want to focus on the insurance side, typically it’s commission-based. If on the managed money side, they would be collecting fees.
Tell me about your ideal recruit.
I like younger people that don’t have a lot of experience but are looking to build a practice and learn from the ground up. I’m sure, though, that as the years go on, we’ll want to bring on more seasoned advisors. But sometimes people have bad habits or limiting beliefs in terms of what they can achieve.
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