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Douglas Boneparth’s Relentless Marketing Is Paying Off

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Douglas Boneparth’s financial advisor dad counseled him at the start that an FA needs to have “the heart of a social worker and the mind of a capitalist.”

The younger Boneparth, now 36, would take that a bit farther to add a third vital: the nerve of a relentless marketer. Or else how would pandemic-lacerated 2020 turn out to be the RIA’s very best year? He tells all in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

In 2021, Boneparth’s flourishing New York City-based practice, Bone Fide Wealth, has had an equally super start.

Managing client assets of nearly $90 million, he attributes the good news to hammering away at marketing and promotion ever since he founded the firm four years ago. 

Those efforts paved the way for prospects to connect with him when, amid the pandemic and economic decline, they realized it would be wise to have a financial plan.

High-earning millennials are the advisor’s niche, and right now, he says, these young professionals are seeking “greater peace of mind,” despite the security of annual income between $400,000 and $1.2 million. In the interview, he offers an explanation for their angst.

Specializing in the millennial cohort from his firm’s inception, Boneparth is now focusing on the upper part of that age group and a bit beyond: high earners in their late 20s to early 40s.

In concert with that, he is starting to provide some sophisticated investment vehicles in addition to his core model portfolios. The expansion will include creation of an alternative investment platform for direct indexing and limited partnerships. To begin with, in 2019 he launched a tactical portfolio.

To differentiate his practice from others, Boneparth’s branding and marketing thrust kicks off with an attention-getting logo. Admittedly kooky, it is his own Elvis-pompadour hairdo, sans the rest of his face. 

The advisor — a naturally funny guy — can also be relied on for witty tweets. The day Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced he would step over to become executive chairman this summer, Boneparth tweeted: “Congrats to Jeff Bezos for achieving FIRE. Can’t wait to read his blog.”

Though now focusing on older millennials, the CFP, whose practice is smack in the middle of New York’s financial district at 7 World Trade Center (a location that, to be sure, helps promote his brand), is by no means forsaking America’s youth: He has already begun to connect with Generation Z about financial planning.

It’s never too early to rev up the marketing engine for people on the ascendancy, he believes: Gen Z are those who were born between 1997 and 2012.

In the interview, maintaining that “demand for financial advisors is the highest it’s ever been,” Boneparth warns FAs: “If you’re not focusing on how you can bring in new clients, that could be a really big problem for you this year.”

His marketing strategies embrace a book that he authored, “The Millennial Money Fix” (Career Press 2017), co-written with his wife, attorney Heather J. Boneparth, as well as exposure as the millennial voice of the CNBC Digital Financial Advisor Council. He is also a Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards ambassador for New York.

Boneparth grew up in Boca Raton, Florida, and had an early start while in college, working part time in his father’s Ameriprise Financial practice. By age 25, he was already a CFP.

In 2008, he relocated to New York City, handling operations and administration for another Ameriprise advisor. On the side, he began building his own book. He also enrolled in NYU Stern School of Business to earn a master’s degree. (His undergraduate degree is in public relations.)

At NYU, he networked with and indeed prospected classmates his own age. It took little time to choose fellow millennials as his client niche.

Boneparth went independent in 2012, partnering with an FA, exiting at the same time, that he’d worked with at the firm. In 2014, he completed his master’s and two years later went solo to open Bone Fide.

ThinkAdvisor recently held a phone interview with the RIA, who was speaking from his home in New Jersey. Looking ahead, he sees financial planning as an FA’s key strength. “You can’t computerize a human relationship,” he argues.

Here are highlights of our conversation:   

THINKADVISOR: You write that investment management has been commoditized. What are the implications?

DOUGLAS BONEPARTH: The future of the profession is to lead with financial planning, because that isn’t a commodity. It’s tied to the [FA-client] relationship and the specific advice you give. People have the tools to do a lot of things on their own. That’s why there’s fee compression in investment vehicles and in what advisors are charging. But you can’t computerize a human relationship.

And, of course, there are ways of working with individuals that are more than just buy-and-hold low-cost indexing. Your thoughts?

Yes. At some point, clients are going to want access to other ways of investing for limited portions of their portfolio or their net worth. [Many millennials] are really interested in going above and beyond that, and can afford to. There are plenty of strategies that can provide access.

Are you offering any?

Yes. Over the last year, we’ve been working on creating our own alternative investment platform. So, to run alongside the core strategic investment models we’ve always run, we’re going to open the door to a whole universe of alternative-style investments, including direct indexing platforms and limited partnerships.

Is the tactical portfolio that you introduced in 2019 one of the new strategies?

It’s a start. It’s a simple timing model that a handful of clients take advantage of. It’s just one [additional] way we can provide more value in investment management.

To what extent are you paying attention to next-gen investors — Generation Z — born between 1997 and 2012?

There are things about Gen Z that are really impressive. They’re even more creative than millennials. But they also have the opportunity to learn from millennials in terms of what they want to do [earning and investing money]. We’re just starting to communicate with Gen Z and seeing interest from them when it comes to financial planning. 

Do you market to them?

It’s still early, but a lot of the content that I create keeps them in mind. I can see having an advisor under me in 10 years catering to that demographic — with some overlap during the next five years or so. [That FA] will have all the tools and experience I can share with them on how I did it with millennials.

What sort of advice do millennials need most from their advisors right now?

They’re looking for greater peace of mind. Millennials who started their careers during the Great Recession didn’t lose their feelings of instability. Then we got hit with the pandemic, and all those feelings [intensified]. That’s how it felt for me and my clients. But if you learned from the experience of 2008-2009, you were in a pretty good position to help your clients in March of 2020 [through the sharp market decline].

How has the pandemic impacted advisors’ practices?

The pandemic increased the volume of people looking for an advisor. Demand for financial advisors is the highest it’s ever been. If you’re not focusing on how you can bring in new clients, that could be a really big problem for you this year. There’s opportunity for advisors to help more people and generate more business.

Which FAs will fare best this year, do you think?

Advisors who did a decent job of marketing in the years leading up to the pandemic and had good systems in place and [therefore] time to market and grow through the pandemic. They were able to capitalize on and take advantage of what arguably was one of the toughest times in financial history. 

How did your own firm do?

My practice had its best year in 2020, and it’s having the absolute best start in 2021. We’ll probably hire someone to become a financial advisor. The growth is happening extremely quickly out of last year into 2021. This is a very good problem to have!

Was 2020 so successful for you because you acquired more clients?

Yes. That was because of all my nonstop marketing efforts over the years, day in and day out promoting the firm’s brand and image and my [investing] authority. 

How did the prospects connect with you?

When things got wild in 2020, people said to themselves, “I’m really worried. I need to work with someone.” So they searched Google or asked a friend. The pandemic was a wake-up call to a lot of people later in 2020 to reach out to a financial professional and put a plan in place. If you were doing a good job building a presence, you were one of the first people they reached out to.

Why was it easy to find you on Google?

My firm has been spending a lot of time and money on search engine optimization [SEO] and having a brand and presence in the media. So when people were searching for an advisor, I would pop up.

You use your hairstyle as your company’s logo. That’s pretty daring for financial services, a conservative industry. But it apparently works for you.

My wife cut my hair a couple of times during quarantine. Given the brand and logo, I was very worried trusting her with that. But she did a phenomenal job!

Many of your tweets are quite amusing. Does that sense of humor extend to interaction with clients?

One hundred percent. I’ve always used humor as a tool to work with clients to make conversations easier and get really important points across. When you work with people on their financial lives, you have to talk about some very serious topics, like, in estate planning, death and incapacitation. These are not fun topics. 

But not all folks appreciate the same type of humor. How do you gauge what to kid about?

You don’t want to be joking around with people who are very serious and to-the-point and who are [only] looking for answers. You need to know your client. What else is new?

Anything else to keep in mind?

You’ve got to know when it’s OK to be funny. You have to understand the time and place where humor can be used, especially when you’re dealing with all kinds of personalities and walks of life.

How did you get interested in becoming a financial advisor?

I was introduced to financial planning at a very young age by my father [Andrew Boneparth, Ameriprise Financial advisor]. When I was 7 years old, I watched him start his career; and I began working with him at 19 when I was in college. 

What was something you learned from him about being an FA that you’ve kept in mind? 

He taught me that the job was having the heart of a social worker and the mind of a capitalist and knowing that I could make a good living helping people achieve their goals. That’s really awesome.