One advisor was previously a mountaineer, guiding clients to mountaintops before he began helping guide their financial lives. Another managed the branch of a retail bank at age 18. These standouts and others made the cut in On Wall Street's latest annual ranking of advisors under the age of 40. The members of this elite group come from all walks of life, from small suburban towns, such as Patchogue, N.Y., to big cities such as Chicago.
Yet while these industry leaders have varied origin stories, their successes share similar foundations.
In their dedication to clients, these advisors go above and beyond what may be necessary. "They have 24 hours, seven days a week access to me," says Morgan Stanley's John Perry, who ranks as No. 1.
Almost all say they take a conservative approach to investing, which several of this year's top advisors say will keep them growing into the future.
"As long as I continue to make that my goal, as long as I'm not reaching for returns, then we'll be set up for future success," says Chris Vollmer of RBC Wealth Management.
Finally, many of this year's top advisors under 40 place a premium not only on the importance of hard work, but of teamwork, too. Many credited their co-workers and mentors with helping set them up for future success. Raymond James & Associates' Jay Hack cites the mentorship of his father, who is an advisor at the same firm, as a key reason he has been able to serve his clients and their families as well as he does.
"It's the importance of family — the importance of our family and those that we service," Hack says. "It's this watchword that we just keep coming back to."
Learn from the profiles, including this year's expanded list of the top 25 advisors at regional broker-dealers, how these elite advisors built their businesses.
To view the full list, click here.
1. John Perry
FIRM: MORGAN STANLEY
Reflecting on the reasons for his success, John Perry says it's a case of hard work meets opportunity. But this year's No. 1 advisor under age 40 also points to an additional factor.
"I think when you transcend just a business relationship, clients can feel that," Perry says. "Markets are going to go up and go down. I can't control that. But I can control how hard I work for someone, the details of our service and how much I care for them. I think that has resonated with my new clients as well as longstanding clients."
Perry, says he gives his roughly 35 ultrawealthy clients 24/7 access. "There are some clients I talk to multiple times a day, every day of the week," the Indianapolis-based advisor says.
Perry maintains a strict exercise routine (he's a triathlete), but otherwise keeps a flexible workday in order to respond to whatever client needs may arise.
He says he may get phone calls from clients inquiring about everything from new stock issues to wanting to finance a buyout of a company. This high-touch approach to his practice has helped raise his ranking; last year, Perry ranked at No. 3.
The Lafayette, Ind., native developed his passion for wealth management during a college internship at Goldman Sachs. After graduating from Indiana University, Perry landed an advisory job at Merrill Lynch. His first day of work was Sept. 11, 2001.
"I learned really quickly that you are not just a financial advisor. A lot of times you are helping manage the emotions of clients," he says. "At a moment like that, people want to sell all their assets, move into cash or gold. It kind of threw me in the deep end of the pool."
His youth also turned out to be an asset, as older clients saw in him an advisor who worked hard and would be around to help them for years to come.
His dedication to his work has resulted in particularly deep relationships with clients, Perry says.
"All 35 clients are my friends. They didn't start out that way, but it turned out that way," he says. "I've got great relationships with all of them. It's what makes my job fun."
2. Keith Rowling
FIRM: MORGAN STANLEY
To Keith Rowling, having a keen focus is vital to his advisory business. "We work mainly in two areas," says Rowling, who was licensed during his freshman year at Notre Dame and is now with Morgan Stanley in Troy, Mich.
"One is capital markets and the second is alternative investments."
Within capital markets, Rowling is active in equities and fixed income. "The fixed-income markets are very fragmented," he says. "You can buy wholesale. Alternatively, you can buy securities that have been stepped on three or four times. With today's low interest rates, there is little room for substantial returns. ... We prefer to buy in the underwriting."
A similar situation exists in equities. For stocks as well as fixed income, Rowling says being with Morgan Stanley gives him access to desirable offerings at relatively attractive prices.
"We can deliver solutions that are unique to our clients," he says, "often with products they can't get elsewhere. We understand capital markets — that's always been our focus."
In alternatives, Rowling concentrates on private equity and hedge funds. How does he choose among all the funds now available? "First, we look for managers who have provided a return of capital," he says. "We want managers who have multiple years of experience in this area. We also like to see a manager whose interests are aligned with the investors' interests."
Rowling adds alternative investments for his clients might include funds of hedge funds, hedge fund secondaries and hedge fund co-investments.
Rowling's client roster increasingly includes family offices, he reports. While family offices often provide comprehensive financial management for the wealthy, Rowling sticks to his basic expertise.
"We mainly offer investment solutions," he says. "Clients such as family offices come to us looking for superior performance at a time when expectations are low."
3. Nick Kavallieratos
FIRM: MORGAN STANLEY
Nick Kavallieratos has come "full circle." A New York City native, Kavallieratos began his career in financial services at Morgan Stanley, interning while he was a student at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. After a stint with Citigroup, Kavallieratos returned to Morgan and now works in Manhattan.
"I was fortunate in that my internship involved corporate services, including stock plans," Kavallieratos says. "With that background, I was able to get a job with Citigroup after graduating." Kavallieratos currently offers specialized equity trading services at Morgan.
"My team is usually involved in areas such as stock options, restricted stock and employee stock ownership plans," Kavallieratos says. "For corporate clients, we administer these plans." In addition, Kavallieratos works with fellow employees, helping them make the most of these specialized equity opportunities.
Kavallieratos' team uses a holistic approach to advising individual clients, one that goes beyond optimizing stock options or restricted shares. "We sit down with them and go over their family structure and other details of their lifestyle," he explains.
Recently, for example, Kavallieratos advised an ultrahigh-net-worth client whose children are doing well financially; the client wanted to discuss charitable planning. "We went through a series of six to 10 meetings, discussing options," Kavallieratos says. "We wound up with a plan that includes the creation of a family foundation and a substantial bequest to a specific charity. To me, the greatest gift I can get is when a client tells me, 'I feel good about the decisions we made.'"
4. Sean Yu
FIRM: MORGAN STANLEY
For Sean Yu, 2015 was a year for reflection. Even as he continued to grow the business, he was able to step out of the trenches and consider everything in a wider frame.
"This year, I spent a lot of time thinking about philosophy," he says. "I think the philosophy in terms of how I look at money has to be right."
Yu can talk about growth curves and recite market figures chapter and verse, but the real puzzle for him is getting to know his clients — what animates and motivates them and, perhaps most important, their family dynamic.
He describes the challenge of "trying to figure out the power structure in the family" and getting the balance right, an exercise that sometimes entails setting up separate accounts for a husband and wife.
"Some couples, one person's more emotional, one person's more rational," he says. "I think if we can figure this type of stuff right, ultimately, I'm pretty sure 99% of my clients will make money."
Yu, based in Pasadena, Calif., serves a largely Asian-American client base in which the approaches toward money can vary widely by generation.
Yu has adjusted his role over the past year, bringing on a staffer to help with portfolio design and scaling back his own time at work to spend more time with his growing family.
Yu resists the temptation to get caught up in the fluctuations of the market, and urges his clients to do the same. The volatility of last August, for instance, was nothing compared with 2008, and the markets survived both.
While Yu tries to keep clients from falling victim to their fear or getting carried away with greed, he freely admits that sometimes the relationship just isn't a good fit.
"I don't let clients do whatever they want. ... If they really insist they want to do whatever they want, I tell them I'm not the best person for them," he says. "If you're going to be worried about the market every day, you should not be invested in the market in the first place."
5. Jim Fink
FIRM: DEUTSCHE BANK
To keep a successful advisory practice thriving, it can help to broaden the focus. "I'm always trying to grow my business," says Jim Fink, of Deutsche Bank in Greenwich, Conn.
"Recently, I've been growing by diversifying. There are areas at Deutsche Bank where what the bank offers is better than what can be found in other places."
"I try not to focus on one thing," he adds. "Having a lot of ideas, about different areas, can lead to success in this business."
Among Fink's ideas is to expand his client base beyond high-net-worth individuals. "Other clients and potential clients include hedge funds and private equity funds," he says. "They have a need for cash solutions if they're holding large cash balances."
Fink has a network of hedge fund clients who have used these solutions, resulting in referrals to other hedge funds with needs for their own cash.
"We're also finding that some ultrahigh-net-worth families sometimes require unique transactions," Fink says. "Deutsche Bank's private-markets desk can implement them effectively."
Fink relates that he still does a lot of cold calling, but he tries not call people everyone else is calling. "I focus on offering solutions in areas where we can do things better than other firms," he says.
Not all of Fink's calls are cold calls. Last August and September, when the markets were very volatile, he called clients to remind them that they had lived through these cycles before.
"I said that I believed they would come out the other side, feeling comfortable with their holdings," Fink says.
6. Bob White
Bob White got his first job after he turned his cover letter into a financial plan. The University of Delaware alum faced a challenging job market when he graduated in 2002.
Frustrated, White threw out his résumé and cover letter and decided to take a fresh, and perhaps unusual, approach. He had kept all his tax returns and pay stubs since he was a teenager. So White rewrote his cover letter as an analysis of his finances.
"I had a voice that was a little sarcastic that said that Bob is on the brink of financial disaster unless he becomes X at firm Y, like a client service associate at UBS or wherever I was applying," White says. His unusual cover letter landed him a position with a group of private wealth advisors at UBS. White says he wasn't familiar with what a private wealth advisor was before joining the team. But after sitting in on client meetings, he took to the profession quickly.
Today, he works with the same team, though it has transitioned to HighTower. White credits his success to the influence and mentoring his team members provided, particularly veteran advisor Andrew Morse. The New York-based team specializes in working with high-net-worth, multigenerational families.
White says the work involves many points of contact with various family members, who require different strategies depending on what life stage they are in.
"If you know every part of a family intimately and you understand what each part is trying to achieve, then you can help with coordination," White says.
Sometimes that might mean intricate estate planning, but it also might just mean providing basic financial education to a young adult.
White plans to conservatively grow his practice, so it will not detract from the attention his current clients need.
"It's not about me," White says. "It's about them and helping them get where they want to go."
7. Eric Payne
FIRM: MERRILL LYNCH
Before joining Merrill Lynch, where he's been since 1999, Eric Payne was a CPA with Ernst & Young. "My wife is a CPA, too," Payne says, whose office is in the Indianapolis area. "However, to the surprise of some people, we hire a CPA to prepare our tax return." Similarly, as a financial advisor, he doesn't "do taxes," as Payne puts it. "I don't keep up with the latest tax forms."
That said, Payne's experience as a CPA and his familiarity with the Internal Revenue Code play a large role in his success with Merrill. "With a significant tax background, I can help clients use the most tax-efficient strategies," he says. "For example, I might suggest which assets belong in taxable accounts and which belong in tax-deferred retirement accounts. These days, it might make sense to hold high-income investments in tax-deferred accounts, because of recent changes in tax law."
Payne also notes that many advisors wait until the fourth quarter of each year to focus on clients' capital gains and losses. "We think that's a mistake," he says. "Doing it throughout the year can be tax-effective. In August and September of 2015, for instance, there was a correction in the market. We harvested capital losses then. If we had waited until the fourth quarter, there would have been fewer losses to harvest, because the market had moved up."
Harvesting losses has become more important to high-income clients, Payne says, due to higher tax rates. After taking losses, clients can buy back in at a lower cost. "If you believe in the market, it's the right move," Payne says. "Part of our role is to help clients swap positions."
Savvy planning can lead to reinvesting for desirable results without falling into tax traps.
8. Joshua Malkin
FIRM: MORGAN STANLEY
With a promising career working on mergers and acquisitions for a prestigious law firm, Joshua Malkin's future seemed bright — but he wasn't satisfied. Dealing with legal minutiae didn't appeal to him. What he liked was solving complex problems and interacting with clients. So he chose a direction that suited his interest in numbers and finance, as well as his entrepreneurial spirit: wealth management.
As a New York-based wealth manager, Malkin hasn't been afraid to try new tactics. "I was an early adopter of ETFs," he says. "I started using them in 2006, when there were hundreds of ETFs, not thousands." Malkin still uses ETFs, citing their low costs, tax efficiency and diversification opportunities.
Not content with conventional wisdom, Malkin spends considerable time studying the global macroeconomic environment, including geopolitical factors. "Clients are comfortable knowing that I'm doing this research and using my knowledge to oversee their assets," he says.
For now, Malkin is skeptical of what he calls "economic growth bulls," because he sees a continuing slowdown. Generally, this means a shift away from cyclical stocks and a search for specific opportunities in alternative vehicles. Although Malkin is cautious about fixed income — he says that, mathematically, bonds are unlikely to perform as well as they did in the past three decades — he says he's not afraid of long-term, high-quality issues such as 10- to 15-year U.S. Treasuries.
Even with thoughtful investment strategies, clients have concerns about running out of money, no matter their net worth. So Malkin runs through Monte Carlo scenarios at the outset of client engagements, repeating this exercise after major life events. "We usually find that these clients won't run out, even if they live for many years, as long as they don't invest too aggressively or too conservatively," Malkin says.
9. Dan Hoffmann
FIRM: MORGAN STANLEY
As one of the heads of a large team specializing in retirement planning, Dan Hoffmann wears a couple of hats.
"There's two parts of broadly what I do, and one is the typical financial advisor function where I'm working and helping clients and reviewing their plan, and the other is we have this great team within a very large organization, and I get to be the mentor to a number of our new advisors," Hoffmann says. He calls it "the best of both worlds."
Hoffmann's Chicago-based group counts nine advisors and a dozen support staff members, a team that collectively handles around 2,000 households.
Hoffmann himself serves around 200 accounts, which he says is a manageable number that enables him to provide a high-touch service model. "My big thing is being accessible, so I never want to have too many clients," he says.
Hoffmann's clients are a diverse group, though many are corporate executives. They typically aren't in the C-suite, but have risen high through the ranks and often come to Hoffmann as they are capping a long career spent with the same company.
Hoffmann says his "ideal client" is one planning to retire within five years. He positions himself as an expert in retirement planning, focusing on helping clients grapple with the "big questions" that arise when they are preparing to exit the workforce.
"I think the majority of people that are on the cusp of retirement are very worried, nervous, concerned. Excited. But I think they have all these fears, and I know, through good advice and a plan, we can get rid of these fears," he says.
10. Jack Wong
FIRM: MORGAN STANLEY
Jack Wong strives to play the role of quarterback for his clients. He advises clients in put ting together and executing comprehensive wealth plans and coordinating with their attorneys, accountants and any other outside professionals who might be involved in their finances.
"One of the things that we start focusing on with our clients is building a wealth plan," Wong says. "We want to make sure that we provide that personal attention, which is the one-stop shop or jack of all trades."
Wong started out in the retail banking sector, working at Wells Fargo as a teller, then a personal banker and project manager; he went on to become a senior advisor. He showed an aptitude for finance early on: Wong was manager of one of the bank's retail branches at age 18.
His practice today serves about 200 households with varying backgrounds. Based in Mountain View, Calif., Wong advises doctors, entrepreneurs, executives in blue-collar industries and others, along with younger generations in line for family fortunes.
"One of the things that I would say really separates us is the customer-service standpoint," he says. "Every team member knows our clients, so we work as a group."
That means Wong and his staff are checking email around the clock, and every client has his cellphone number in case of an emergency.
That approach, rewarding in a personal sense, also pays dividends for the business.
Wong today grows his practice solely through referrals, and boasts a 100% client retention rate.
"It's really about what [clients] get on the receiving end, as well as what we provide at the beginning, which is understanding our clients, profiling our clients," Wong says.
"They don't receive this from their current advisors. Once we have the client experience ... I think it's an easy story to tell their friends and family about us," he adds.
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