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Commonwealth's New Wealth Exec Tells Advisors: We're Here for You

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What You Need to Know

  • Fee pressure remains a key challenge for advisors, according to Commonwealth's Karen McColl.
  • She urges advisors to take advantage of the firm's services, like advanced tax and estate planning.
  • Commonwealth has boosted its efforts to recruit advisors breaking away from wirehouses.

Commonwealth Financial’s recently appointed senior vice president of wealth management is out to help make sure the firm’s advisors have all the tools they need — and are taking full advantage of all those resources — to meet the increasingly complex needs of clients and overcome challenges that include fee pressure, she told ThinkAdvisor in a recent interview.

In announcing the hiring of Karen McColl, Commonwealth said her role “will be central to shaping the next evolution of Commonwealth’s advisor support model across Advanced Planning, Insurance, Annuity Research, Investment Consulting Services, and Retirement Consulting Services as the firm continues to respond to advisors’ dynamic financial planning business needs.”

Her appointment demonstrates Commonwealth’s “fierce commitment to the wealth management space” as well as its “desire to make sure that we are continuing to provide our advisors with efficient  and effective products, services, platforms [and] solutions that will help them really deliver what their clients need, which is becoming more and more complex,” said McColl, who joined Commonwealth from MassMutual.

Also at the top of her list of focus areas is helping advisors “build their businesses in a way that’s scalable — so really supporting their growth,” she said.

Pointing to the many resources that Commonwealth makes available to advisors, she said, “What I really want to see is an increasing number of our advisors take full advantage of all of those things.”

For example, in the area of advanced planning, “we have folks that have law degrees that are expert at tax planning and setting up estates and charitable accounts,” she said, noting they are “incredibly experienced [and] very knowledgeable folks that are basically at the beck and call of our advisors.”

Meanwhile, there are ongoing projects at the firm designed to “refine the ease of use of technology,” she noted. The goal is to make sure the company has “seamless integration across platforms, products [and] services” and that they are easy for advisors to use, she said.

Fee Pressure

Meanwhile, “there’s so much fee pressure on everyone” that it is an “unfair burden” for advisors today, McColl said.

“There’s a point at which we have to stand up and be very confident about what advisors are doing and [the] notion of value for price,” she explained. It’s important for advisors to make sure clients understand all the things they’re getting for a certain price point when it comes to managing their overall investments and helping them reach their financial goals, she said.

“I’m of the mind that cheaper is not always better and so I want to make sure that we as an industry can kind of calibrate and be proud and stand by some of the pricing models and the services that we’re providing vis a vis those models,” she said.

Some investors continue to be confused about what they are getting for the money they’re paying an advisor, in part because of “mixed messages that are kind of bombarding investors,” McColl said.

There’s a lot of work that an advisor will do on behalf of the client and so I think the more transparency and the more understanding that we can get around that, the better off we would be,” she added.

Wirehouse Breakaways

Commonwealth planned to step up its recruiting of breakaway financial advisors in 2021, especially those leaving wirehouse firms, Andrew Daniels, managing principal at Commonwealth Financial, told ThinkAdvisor in the fall, noting he was looking forward to an expected “second wave” of breakaway advisors.

“That is underway and we certainly see interest” from breakaway advisors, McColl said. “I think there’s motion and mobility in the space and so” Commonwealth welcomes the opportunity to tell its story to wirehouse advisors, “some of whom may not be all that familiar” with the firm, she noted.

“I think being able to articulate the culture that we have here, the very flexible affiliation models that we have and the deep and robust services that we can provide” may convince “some of these wirehouse advisors [to] conclude that Commonwealth is absolutely the place for them,” she said, noting the company is seeing “vibrant activity” overall for recruiting. Commonwealth, however, didn’t provide any recent recruiting data.

Before joining Commonwealth, McColl was head of defined benefit within MassMutual’s Institutional Solutions group and was previously head of investment management for MassMutual’s broker-dealer. Prior to that, she held roles in senior management and product management and development at Fidelity, Evergreen, Columbia and Wellington Management.

McColl reports to Greg Gohr, Commonwealth’s managing principal of wealth management.

As of Dec. 31, Commonwealth had 2,012 producing advisors and total account assets of $232.5 billion, it said Tuesday.