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Janney Advisor Thrives After Injury Renders Him Quadriplegic

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As it turns out, many financial advisors welcomed the convenience of working from home during the pandemic. Not Vincent D. Crudo.

That’s stunning, since he suffered a spinal cord injury in 2013 that rendered him a quadriplegic at age 48.

After that catastrophic biking accident, family and friends tried to persuade the paralyzed Crudo not to return to work; but the 34-year financial services veteran refused to take the advice.

Little more than a year after the accident, he was back in his office at RBC Wealth Management and meeting with clients.

But he resigned this spring after 12 years with the firm. And RBC’s decision to close branches amid the pandemic — making him unable to work in his office in Hartford, Connecticut — was a major reason why.

“I felt strongly that since we’re a full-service industry, not a robo-advisor or an app, closing offices was just wrong,” Crudo tells ThinkAdvisor in an interview.

In May, he moved to Janney Montgomery Scott, which has kept its headquarters and branches open during the health crisis.

“Our policy is for employees to work from home. [But] if they choose to work from an office, they can” as long as they follow our protocols and government guidelines, a Janney spokesperson says.

In the interview, Crudo, senior vice president- investments and now based in Westbrook, Connecticut, discusses his medical trauma — which included complications requiring surgery — and the important role longtime clients played in his recovery.

But as a 50%-transactional FA, it was keeping up with the stock market daily, thanks to The Wall Street Journal and CNBC, during his long rehabilitation that gave him “optimism about life and doing my job,” the father of three with wife Kristen says.

Now 56, Crudo manages about $120 million in assets of high-net-worth individuals and families, plus corporations.

With a background that includes institutional investing, he also works with financial institutions, such as a publicly traded bank, which have assets ranging from $100 million up to $15 billion.

An experienced road and mountain cyclist, Crudo suffered an upper cervical injury when he was thrown from his mountain bike one holiday weekend in Vermont. He cannot walk and has limited use of his arms.

The advisor spent four months in a rehabilitation hospital and underwent another year of extensive physical therapy.

He is now directing much of his energy toward expanding his business by helping clients with disabilities, especially those who have also suffered spinal cord injuries.

At RBC, the former Little League active volunteer, was a member of the President’s Council.

Previously, he was with Citigroup/Smith Barney for 19 years and in SB’s Institutional Fixed Income Group. At the firm, he rose to Directors Council member. 

An email and phone call to RBC to determine its current policy on branch reopenings went unanswered.

An online, undated company post indicates that the firm is “developing plans to gradually return employees to RBC premises.”

ThinkAdvisor recently interviewed Crudo, speaking by phone from his Westbrook office.

He explains: “I’m able to marry work with a physical and occupational therapy regimen to keep gradually improving. 

“I’m lucky enough go to through the years developing a routine that works for me using the resources I have.”

Here are highlights of our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: It’s surprising that after your catastrophic accident, you resumed your job as a financial advisor. You must have been highly motivated, right?

VINCE CRUDO: A lot of people — family, friends, colleagues — advised against returning to work. Thank God I didn’t listen to them! To stay at home and not be engaged was something I was unwilling to do. 

I know people that have been injured and relegated to being in bed, not being out and about. But that’s not me.

How long was it from the time of your accident in 2013 to when you were back at your job?

A year and a few months. It felt like an eternity.  

You were injured riding a mountain bike. Would you tell me what happened?

I was an avid biker, on both road and mountain bike. On Columbus Day weekend, we were in Vermont at a house we had there. 

I went over a jump too slowly [to clear], and went over the handlebars. The rest is history. We were supposed to come home that day. But it didn’t work out as planned.

How did you cope when the doctor told you that you were paralyzed?

It wasn’t easy. It’s a diagnosis that nobody wants to get. When you hear the word quadriplegic, you envision someone being pretty much bedridden, and that was my first reaction.

Initially, when you’re hurt, the first thing you want to do is walk. It takes a while for it to sink in that you’re probably not going to. There isn’t a cure for spinal cord injury. Mine was an upper cervical injury.

What sort of therapy did you have? 

What helps with a neuromuscular disease or injury is occupational and physical therapy. Within the first weeks of being hurt, I had extensive rehabilitation.

There are things you can do to gradually improve — and that’s what I’ve been doing.

I was lucky enough to have good support — both family and colleagues. And I have a great aide that’s been with me for six years.

You were at a rehab hospital for four months, and then there was another year of therapy. Did you keep up with the stock market all that time?

Yes. The injury absolutely eroded my spirit, but I was 100% aware of what was happening in the market. 

I was watching CNBC every day and getting The Wall Street Journal delivered electronically. All that definitely helped my state of mind.

How did clients react to your having the accident?

After I was accepted at Shepherd Center, one of the preeminent spinal cord rehabilitation hospitals in the country, literally every day for four months I received a card, letter or basket from one of my clients. 

That kept me going.  It was very inspirational to know that so many people cared about me — my clients in particular.

There was a handful of them, especially, that were just extraordinary. It was uplifting.

At the time of your accident, you were an advisor with RBC. After medical leave, you returned to the office. Did you work at home during the coronavirus pandemic?

Before the pandemic, I commuted to my office from home every day. During the pandemic, for the last year and few months, a lot of people worked from home. Some were perfectly fine with that. Others, like me, were not.  

During the pandemic, I didn’t commute at all. [RBC] had the same playbook as the bigger wirehouses [their offices were closed]. I felt closing the offices was just wrong. 

My strong feeling was that we’re a full-service industry, not a robo-advisor or an app.

Being able to come to the office is a major reason for my decision to move to Janney. Since I started here in [mid-May] I’ve commuted every day. At RBC, if a client wanted to see you in your office, they were precluded from doing that. At Janney, when you follow all the protocols, they can. 

If you want to work in the office, you can; and if you want to work remotely, you can do that. 

Tell me about your client base.

My clients have been with me for a very long time — my biggest accounts, for 30 years. The wealth management clients I have are 50% transactional and 50% fee-based. There are accounts with concentrated positions that I’ve had through the years. So charging a fee to manage those makes sense.

But transactional business keeps me involved in the market on a day-to-day basis. After my injury, [monitoring the market] was one of the things that gave me some degree of optimism about life and doing my job. I’m always going to have transactional business. The industry is changing and adapting, and I am too. But I have to do it in a way that makes sense for my clients and for me. 

To what extent are you paralyzed?

I have some use of my arms. I can use a computer and feed myself.  I’m left-handed; and, thankfully, I have function in my left hand more so than my right — though as I’m speaking to you, I just grabbed a water bottle with my right hand.  

I have a mouse and a wireless keyboard that I’m able to operate. I can text and email.  But I don’t have fine motor skills, and I can’t walk. I have a power wheelchair and a special van. I’m driven to the office every day. 

Do you control the computer with your voice?

Sometimes when texting, I’ll use voice activation on my phone. My finger — the one you need to type with — works. That’s a blessing.

Everything in the industry, like trades, is done electronically now. If that weren’t the case, getting back to work probably wouldn’t have been realistic.

What’s the most challenging part for you as far as the work of an advisor is concerned?  

The only thing I don’t do that I did before is send handwritten notes to clients. That’s the hardest thing [to deal with] because I loved that.

I always liked to express myself in handwritten notes; I was a minor in creative writing. I can have somebody write a note for me, but it’s not the same.

Overall, as a consequence of your injury, what’s the toughest aspect to cope with?

The lack of independence. For instance, I have a dinner meeting Monday evening. The hardest thing [about that] is getting logistically coordinated. When my aide is unavailable to drive me somewhere, I have to rely on friends or a family member to take me.

Do you market your practice, or are you entirely referral-based?

It’s been referrals, but I’m trying to grow my practice by reaching the disability world, especially people who have had spinal cord injuries.

I offer a unique perspective: While I was at the Shepherd Center, people said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.” 

I can imagine what [people with spinal cord injuries] are going through! So that, coupled with my industry knowledge and experience and having covered institutions, gives me an advantage over [other FAs competing for these clients]. 

But once you get [access] and articulate a strategy, your knowledge comes to the fore. So people work with you not because you’re disabled but because you’re competent.

What prompted you to want to be a financial advisor in the first place?

It was my father. He owned a few individual stocks and got annual reports. I’d read them and would be interested. 

I was in a business class at Southern Connecticut State University. They arranged for certain students to become interns. In my senior year, I started as an intern with Shearson Lehman.

Then an opportunity came about with an advisor whose partner was leaving the business. I was in the right place at the right time. And with my fascination with [investing], things just, sort of, blossomed.  

Your voice doesn’t sound like it was affected by the accident. Am I right? 

No. Initially, it was. But because the diaphragm is a muscle, the more you talk, the more you strengthen it. 

If I couldn’t use my voice, that would probably be a disqualifying thing for me to work. Well, I’m sure I could do it; but it would be much harder. I can’t yell at my kids as loudly as I used to — though I still yell!