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Meet 6 up-and-coming financial advisers who are managing big money and navigating a cutthroat industry

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We spoke with six young, stand-out advisers from some of the largest US wealth managers whose practices have grown early in their careers.
Merrill Lynch Wealth Management; Morgan Stanley Wealth Management; Wells Fargo Advisors; Ruobing Su/Business Insider

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  • We talked to young, stand-out financial advisers from some of the largest US wealth managers whose practices have grown early in their careers.
  • We spoke with FAs from Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, Wells Fargo Advisors, and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
  • These rising-star FAs have only come up in the industry in recent years, and they discussed why they got into the business, how they've grown their client bases, and what advice they would give to newbie advisers.
  • Succeeding early on as a financial adviser is notoriously difficult. Around three-quarters of adviser trainees exit the business during their first year, according to an estimate from the industry research firm Cerulli Associates. At the end of 2017, the average age of financial advisors in the United States was 52.
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Succeeding early on as a financial adviser is notoriously difficult.

2020欧洲杯体育平台Around three-quarters of adviser trainees exit the business during their first year, according to an estimate from the industry research firm Cerulli Associates.

That figure tends not to fluctuate much, either, as many newcomers have to build up their own client base from scratch — and keep on acquiring assets to survive. The average age of financial advisors in the United States was about 52, according to the most recent data.

We talked with six rising-star financial advisers from some of the largest US wealth managers whose practices have grown early in their careers.

We spoke with FAs from Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, Wells Fargo Advisors, and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, who have only come up in the industry in recent years, about why they got into the business; how they've grown their client base; and what advice they would give to newbies.

Similarities emerged among our rising stars, whose practices are all based in different states. Many entered the industry during the global financial crisis or soon after, when the national unemployment rate shot up to 10% at its worst while big banks reduced their own workforces and began backing away from some ultra-risky investments.

It was also a period that gave rise to pure-play roboadvisers, a trend many advisers attribute to a view that in the coming years their populations will shrink, the research firm Greenwich Associates has found.

But many of the advisers on our list stuck with the profession as they found great mentors or landed on adviser teams (teams are now the norm among big wealth managers' adviser forces,) with senior advisers and specialists who helped them along the way. 

While our criteria for rising stars was not completely rigid or bound by age, we're featuring advisers early in their careers who, in the eyes of their firms, have done an outstanding job by their clients and peers.

Meet our inaugural class of up-and-coming financial advisers.

Sarah Schweppe, Wells Fargo Advisors

Sarah Schweppe, Wells Fargo Advisors
Schweppe joined her parents' financial advisory group at Wells Fargo Advisors in 2014.
Wells Fargo Advisors

2020欧洲杯体育平台In 2014, Sarah Schweppe joined the family business that her mother founded decades ago: an advisory team under the Wells Fargo Advisors banner. But that wasn't always her plan.

2020欧洲杯体育平台Schweppe, now a Charlotte-based financial adviser at the Schweppe Group, was interested in journalism, and studied the field with a focus in business news at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. 

2020欧洲杯体育平台"I used to think I would write for the Wall Street Journal," the newspaper she grew up seeing around her house, Schweppe said in an interview. 

She also remembers her parents, both advisers, happy with their careers and often reinforcing the importance of financial planning at home early on.

2020欧洲杯体育平台As she learned throughout college more about what went into becoming an adviser, she decided financial planning was the way to go, and earned her master's degree in management from Wake Forest University.

Her parents suggested she find her own job and gain outside business experience first, so she worked as an internal auditor at Bank of America and joined her parent's practice in 2014. 

2020欧洲杯体育平台One hurdle young advisers who are not paired with a team often face is having to build up a client base from scratch — something Schweppe didn't have to do on her own. But she still had to earn clients' trust, she said, with existing clients and family members.

"When I came onto the team, I really targeted the next generation," she said, an endeavor her mother began easing her into with introductions during regular meetings with longtime clients.

2020欧洲杯体育平台The Schweppe Group oversees some $315 million in assets as of December 31, a jump of about 50% from the end of 2016, when the team oversaw some $207 million. 

2020欧洲杯体育平台For younger financial advisers just getting started, she'd recommend thinking about what kind of different value they can bring to clients, or a niche they can carve out, like in student loans or charitable giving. 

2020欧洲杯体育平台"I think younger clients want to do a lot more communication via email and maybe shorter, more frequent communication," she said. "Whereas I tend to see our older, more traditional clients still prefer phone calls and maybe talking less frequently."

2020欧洲杯体育平台Some differences between advisers training these days and those who entered the field even just a handful of years ago have become apparent.

Even six years ago, most of the emphasis was placed on "coming into the building and building a business on your own through things like networking and cold calling," she said.

Now there's a greater emphasis from the firm around teaming up and forging a successful transition plan between senior and junior advisers.

One crucial thread connecting all of her team's business and relationships, Schweppe told us, is a "Ritz Carlton-level of service, white glove level of service" for clients that her mother, who died in 2016, had always employed.  

2020欧洲杯体育平台"She taught me that it's always important to make our clients feel important every time we interact with them," Schweppe said. "It's not anything groundbreaking, but it's things like, every time they call, answering the phone with a smile, and making them feel like their call is the most important call you're going to take that day."

Schweppe, who has her certified financial planner designation, also stressed the importance of finding a great mentor. For Schweppe, that was her mom — and she's built fruitful relationships with other women advisers in Charlotte, too. 

See also: The new head of Wells Fargo's massive wealth arm explains why human financial advisers should embrace roboadvisers, not fear them

Chris Jay, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

Chris Jay, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management
Jay joined Merrill Lynch in 2009 after earning his bachelor's degree from Seattle University.
Merrill Lynch

In the late-2008 depths of the financial crisis, Bank of America2020欧洲杯体育平台 bought Merrill Lynch for $50 billion to create a giant of banking and wealth management. 

2020欧洲杯体育平台A few months later in 2009, fresh from earning his bachelor's degree in international business from Seattle University, Chris Jay joined Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

"I credit the crisis with early success in many ways," Jay told us. "It required me to be more thoughtful." 

Jay, who now leads the Seattle-based Jay Bergeson Group at Merrill Lynch as managing partner, describes growing up in a family where "no one was shy, and conversations about any topic were encouraged, so money was something we weren't in the dark about."

He was the first adviser in the Pacific Northwest to graduate from Merrill Lynch's three-year-long practice management development program, a rigorous training curriculum2020欧洲杯体育平台 now known as the financial adviser development program. 

2020欧洲杯体育平台His practice has seen notable growth in the last decade that he's been at Merrill Lynch, among the world's largest wealth managers with some $2.6 trillion in client balances (the wider global wealth and investment management unit oversees some $3 trillion.)

Jay personally oversees $345 million in client assets as of December 31, and his annual growth in assets under management has averaged 43% in the last four years. 

Starting out, it was a different story. A prospective client challenged Jay over why he should be trusted as a financial adviser with so little experience — a reality many advisers struggle with today as they're just starting out.

"I was young, and even though I'd passed all of my securities licenses, I didn't have 10, 20 years of experience to fall back on," Jay recalled in a recent interview, adding he did not end up doing business with that client. 

With the financial crisis still so fresh in the mind of the investment community and beyond, he turned that question around when he'd fielded it again, asking who had advised prospective clients through the crisis. He would be told it was an adviser with many years of experience; he wanted to show people that he could bring a fresh perspective.

"Remember that this is very much a career, and should never be thought of as a stepping stone," he would remind struggling advisers today. "Clients can tell if your heart's in it."

2020欧洲杯体育平台In 2019, 85% of Jay's new clients were in the next-generation demographic. Jay also serves as a member of Merrill's Diversity & Inclusion Executive Council, as well as the Bank of America Global NextGen Council. 

See also: Merrill Lynch is about to launch a new training program for 6,500 client associates — and it shows how the role of full-fledged financial adviser is quickly evolving

Katy Zhao, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

Katy Zhao of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management
Katy Zhao is based in California with Morgan Stanley.
Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

Katy Zhao's relationship with wealth began long before she made the plunge into the financial services industry. Her parents immigrated to the US when she was a toddler, and her mother cleaned rich families' massive homes.

"I was always kind of attracted to what my family didn't have growing up," Zhao, who is from Utah, said in a recent interview. 

When she was younger, Zhao thought about what it took to attain that level of wealth, and whether the people who lived in those houses were happy living with such opulence.

Now a financial adviser and senior portfolio manager with Morgan Stanley Wealth Management's Whitman Group advisory team in Pasadena, California, Zhao took an early interest in business and set out to study the field during college.

2020欧洲杯体育平台At the time, she was so green that she thought the so-called "Chinese wall" — a term thrown around in the finance industry to describe barriers set up within a firm to prevent conflicts of interest — referred to Wall Street's unwillingness to hire Chinese people. 

"That's how naive I was," she said, laughing.

2020欧洲杯体育平台She earned her bachelor's degree in finance and statistics from New York University's Stern School of Business, and in 2009 joined Morgan Stanley as a New York-based equity research analyst, forming an early focus and expertise in socially responsible investing.

2020欧洲杯体育平台Zhao became a full-fledged adviser three years ago, leaning into her love of coaching and guiding people around financial goals. Today, she personally manages some $200 million in client assets, while her team oversees around $2 billion.

"Knowing that I can actually talk to clients and impact their lives — that's what I would have wanted to do for somebody like my mom back in the day," she said.

2020欧洲杯体育平台When she was first starting out as a producing adviser, Zhao started embracing her roots again after earlier trying to shake off what set her apart in a mostly white, male industry.

"Growing up when I was Asian-American in Utah, trust me, I stuck out like a sore thumb," she said, recalling she'd try "really hard not to have a Chinese accent, not to love Asian noodles, which I still do."

2020欧洲杯体育平台But once she hit the field in California in a client-facing role, where she began meeting with prospective clients and building up her own base, she didn't back away from her own roots and life story — a special differentiator she thinks young advisers can benefit from embracing. 

When it comes to her younger clients, Zhao has found that many of them have lots of broad-based questions around their financial roadmap, but they might need them delivered in different ways, especially in a society brimming with "information overload." 

"They pay us for advice, but what does that mean? That means that we are helping them sift through noise," she said. "That's our job."

See also: Tech-savvy staffers are training up Morgan Stanley financial advisers on the firm's WealthDesk tools. It's a chance to gain an in with adviser teams.

John D'Annunzio, Wells Fargo Advisors

John D’Annunzio, Wells Fargo Advisors
John D'Annunzio jumped to Wells Fargo Advisors in 2018 after eight years with Morgan Stanley.
Wells Fargo Advisors

John D'Annunzio was a new adviser during the financial crisis when he brought on a new pair of clients: a seasoned engineer and his wife. 

When he went to their house to meet them, "I was a little intimidated," he said in a recent interview. "I was a brand-new adviser, and here's this successful engineer. What am I going to teach them?" 

The meeting and their relationship was ultimately a formative one. When the clients showed D'Annunzio their portfolio and he saw "the incredible amount of risk that they were taking on without even knowing it, I realized how much people really need advice." 

"We were able to move some things around and reduce risk in the right places, and they're still clients today," he said, adding that he thinks he's a better adviser for getting his start during a historically turbulent time. 

2020欧洲杯体育平台D'Annunzio began his career with Raymond James in Michigan before moving to Morgan Stanley Wealth Management in 2010 and then making the jump to Wells Fargo in 2018. He's now a Dallas-based senior vice president at the Piedmont Wealth Management Group of Wells Fargo Advisors.

His uncle, a longtime financial adviser, was D'Annunzio's introduction to the industry and inspired him to major in finance and enter the field. And while firms are dedicating more and more resources toward training up younger wealth management staffers, D'Annunzio found the most helpful training as hands-on work, learning from senior advisers.

2020欧洲杯体育平台"It is easy to get shortsighted, but what I have found is that taking a long-term approach with this business is going to serve you well," he told us. "So what that means is doing right by the client every single time in all circumstances, regardless of revenue generated."

2020欧洲杯体育平台The wider wealth industry has changed in recent years around advisers' breadth of services, mostly transitioning from sole investment advice to a more all-encompassing financial planning offering. 

A third of the 2,000 wealth management firms that global consulting firm EY interviewed last year for an annual state-of-the-industry report said they were working to build "more robust frameworks that address life events more holistically."

"It's no longer about, 'Hey, you should buy this stock at that price,'" D'Annunzio said.

For advisers just getting started or who may be struggling to get off the ground, he'd remind them "not to expect that everybody is going to say yes," and that for clients, hiring an adviser is a huge decision.

2020欧洲杯体育平台"We've got to just continue to tell our story over and over and over again with passion and with due diligence," he told us. "After a while, people will start to give you that trust and then you'll build your career from there." 

Adam Merino, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

Adam Merino, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management
Adam Merino is on a private wealth team at Morgan Stanley in New York.
Morgan Stanley Wealth Management

2020欧洲杯体育平台"The capacity to manage risk, and with it the appetite to take risk and make forward-looking choices, are key elements of the energy that drives the economic system forward," the economist and historian Peter L. Bernstein wrote in his noted 1996 book, "Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk."

2020欧洲杯体育平台Bernstein's legendary meditation on financial risk is part of what nudged Adam Merino toward the wealth management industry. 

"That book really piqued my interest, and I said, 'Wow, this is really cool stuff, and how did this relate to the capital markets, and how can I get more engrossed in that?'" he recalled thinking when he read 'Against the Gods' as an undergraduate student studying economics at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon.

2020欧洲杯体育平台Now a New York-based private wealth adviser and managing director at Morgan Stanley, Merino remembers being fascinated early on with how risk management, capital markets, and wider macroeconomic factors interlocked. 

Merino, originally from Phoenix, Arizona, recalled cutting his teeth during a formative internship at CTC Consulting, a Portland, Oregon advisory firm later acquired by BMO.

After graduating in 2005, he went to work as an analyst in the high-net-worth practice of US Trust, then still under the Charles Schwab umbrella and not yet acquired by Bank of America. 

Shortly thereafter, he and his now-partner, Robert Stolar, joined Morgan Stanley to form the Family Wealth Group catering to ultra-high net worth clients and family offices. Today, Merino manages some $500 million in client assets and his team oversees around $3 billion.

Merino said new advisers today could benefit from "never viewing a simple interaction as a non-event," and he sees the multi-trillion-dollar US wealth transfer set to hit the industry in the coming years as an opportunity advisers can seize upon.

Another theme Merino said younger advisers shouldn't lose sight of is the power of differentiation and offering a unique value or niche, which for Merino was evaluating hedge fund managers very early on.

2020欧洲杯体育平台"For young people, they always have to be in a constant search for more information, regardless of whether it's meeting somebody at a social function, or at a business or client dinner," he said. "It's always being engaged and asking questions." 

Katie Thompson, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

Katie Thompson, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management
Katie Thompson is based in Albuquerque, New Mexico with Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
Merrill Lynch

Katie Thompson wants you to know that her teammates are as big a part of her success at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management as her hard work has been over the years.

Thompson, now based in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, joined the firm in 2008 after a stint with Smith Barney (under the Citigroup banner at the time, before Morgan Stanley acquired it.)

She's now a managing partner of the Stevens, Thompson & Sweers Group that oversees some $966 million in client assets. Thompson herself manages some $335 million — a 75% rise in production from 2018 to 2019.

In an interview, Thompson said her success and growth at Merrill "is deeply rooted in the fact that I have amazing business partners and teammates that drive so much of our clients' experience, and my satisfaction of being an FA in this industry and at this firm."

Her sentiment speaks, too, to a wider theme cropping up across the industry and one we've heard from several of our rising stars. Financial advisers at wirehouses — the large, full-service US brokers with thousands of reps across the country — are increasingly working on teams over operating as a sole practitioner.

Teams can take many shapes, like having full-fledged FAs as well as client service associates who serve more support functions. Andy Sieg, the president of Merrill Lynch, told us last month2020欧洲杯体育平台 that while some 80% of its advisers are already on teams, "essentially all of our advisers will likely be part of a team" by the year 2030. 

The shift has happened quickly, especially as a wave of adviser retirements are set to hit the industry and the workforce ages2020欧洲杯体育平台. The thinking is that teaming up can, among other benefits, simplify transitioning a roster of clients to a new adviser from a retiring adviser.

2020欧洲杯体育平台Several years ago, Thompson said, "teams were the exception, and not so much the rule at the time because I think what what financial advisers had offered clients was a little bit more limited to investment advice."

Thompson, who speaks frequently at internal education and training events, like ones geared toward trainees in its financial adviser development program (FAPD), knew from the start that she wanted a career in finance and studied the field at the University of New Mexico.

"I wanted to work in a field where I could use my background in finance, but then also collaborate and work with people," she said.

2020欧洲杯体育平台Thinking about junior advisers coming up in the business today, she'd urge newcomers — especially ones who might be struggling — to harness their firms' resources and connect with peers and mentors within your organization.

"This business is very unique in that when you step outside the walls of it, it's kind of hard to relate to other people who aren't doing what we're doing," she said. "So having a strong network in that, I think, is really important."

SEE ALSO: Citi's private bank is leaning on an apprenticeship approach to help pair young bankers with clients in line for big inheritances

SEE ALSO: Merrill Lynch hiked starting salaries for trainee advisers by $10,000 and has taken on 1,700 newbies so far this year. We have the details.

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