For the past four years, I've been a senior vice president handling wholesaling for AllianceBernstein in the New York metro region, the fifth-largest SMA provider in the nation. During that time I've managed to attract about $3 billion in new accounts. I've been fortunate to work in an area that has seen a great deal of growth in high-net-worth individuals.
I've learned that making a great presentation, one that can really rivet a broker's attention, makes a big difference. On the other hand, really listening to the client goes a long way in making sure that no question goes unanswered. Perhaps more than anything else, I've managed money for 15 years of my career and then crossed over into sales, not a usual path for most wholesalers.
But my sales experience began at a young age. I was the youngest of three boys and found that always showing off, always presenting, was the best way to get attention. My dad was a chemical engineer who had done work in the U.K. and Japan, and when I was in fifth grade he moved my family to the Netherlands. This was another situation where being outgoing and talkative helped me make new friends, learn a new culture and develop my "people skills."
When I graduated from the University of Delaware in 1980 with a BS in economics, I forced myself to take on more analytical skills. I got into credit training with Continental Bank in Philadelphia, then received a masters in finance from Temple University. At the ripe old age of 25 I became a portfolio manager for Bryn Mawr Trust, where I met my wife, then moved on to the private banking group at Mellon Bank.
I found that I like the challenge and the personalization of high-net-worth interaction. I worked for a money management firm in Philadelphia for 10 years, where the other portfolio managers and I were responsible for both bringing money in the door and managing that money. At the age of 38, I realized my preference, and true strength, was in sales.
This experience in the high-net-worth market has served me well. Portfolio knowledge is extremely helpful in selling managed accounts. They are transparent, and the clients can see the stocks they own each and every day. High-net-worth individuals also are likely to have a fair amount of investing experience of their own, keeping up with the markets and owning individual stocks.
The fact is that around 80% of all millionaires in the U.S. are first-generation millionaires, so you know they weren't all given something. They worked for it. And they're every bit as involved in managing the wealth they have accumulated as they are involved in attaining that wealth.
On top of this, clients want to be sure you're familiar with their portfolio. They don't always have the patience to be put in touch with the portfolio manager, and they like it when you look like, feel like and sound like someone who knows what's going on.
You have to know the basics about the stocks you own, how the investment process works, even a sampling of stocks that have been sold recently. Here's where my background as a money manager has served me well the past four years.
I also concentrate on the investor, and my background gives the brokers a great deal of comfort in introducing me to their clients. This is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. I've done work for top entertainers and a number of athletes from major league baseball, football, basketball and hockey. When I'm lucky, I get to meet them, too.
Ear to the Ground
Whether you are working with an investor or a broker, you must remember how much people want to tell you about themselves. As soon as I meet someone, I ask them about their background, where they are from, how they got to where they are. It hits home when someone knows you're listening. Listening is a very big part of selling.
Educating the broker is always the No. 1 priority. I'm told it's one of the reasons why I received Smith Barney's Northeast Marketer of the Year in 1998 and 2000. Using key concepts, adding in a little humor and speaking with the right "sound bites" can make a presentation come alive, whether it's for a broker or for a training module at Alliance.
The outlook for separately managed accounts is tremendous. While mutual funds will remain the largest class of assets in terms of dollars, separate accounts are generating the highest percentage growth rate of all managed assets. They're the perfect product for the up-and-coming millionaire Baby Boomer.
-- Written with Lee Barney
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