Marc Jaffe became a million-dollar producer in his rookie year. He simply began prospecting 10 years before he became a broker. Jaffe built a real estate brokerage career from 1981 to 1991 focused on enlivening economically depressed Richmond, Ind. He developed a deeply loyal base of both residential and commercial clients.
Then in 1992, Jaffe moved to Indianapolis to become a Merrill Lynch broker. He jumped right into building business. "I went out from morning to night six days a week meeting with everyone I knew," he says.
Jaffe offered to completely profile former real estate clients' financial situations and provide a written proposal to structure portfolios. "They loved this because they'd been used to just getting a call from their brokers with an idea and that was it," he says. About three-quarters of Jaffe's first-year clients came from previous connections, most of whom transferred all their investable assets. "I don't remember any of them saying no," he says.
With assets growing at 3 million a month, Jaffe says he started struggling to manage it all by his second year. He first added a contact management assistant to work with his sales assistant, then brought in another sales assistant. He used college interns to help with research, too.
But Jaffe also needed to refocus. "I realized I'd better focus on my best clients, give them more service than they expect or think they deserve," he says. For example, a client calls with a mundane question and says there's no hurry to call back. Jaffe has a staffer call back within a half-hour.
"We make sure every need is fulfilled," Jaffe says. "We talk about insurance, home mortgages, selling or refinancing homes. We spend a lot of time doing homework about what we'll invest in."
Jaffe gradually moved into researching and managing stock and bond portfolios. Mutual funds account for barely 5% of client assets, he says. He owns 50 to 55 stocks at a time, looking for themes and grouping them in client portfolios according to individual risk parameters. "I do a good job of understanding where the money is flowing in financial markets," Jaffe says.
Discretionary business is the fastest growth area for Jaffe. He expects it to move from 10% of his business to at least 75% within three years. He is also aggressively moving to fees, which now account for 10% of his production.
Jaffe won't let go of any of his more than 500 clients. He also won't set an account minimum for new clients. "If I ask someone to do business with me, I know they're in a position to provide me with opportunity," he says. "I want people who have investing smarts, who are in positions of influence or who will have money in the future."
Prospecting is a daily discipline. Jaffe builds his confidence each day by mentally reviewing the success of his business and his family. This exercise helps him "put on full battle gear" to give 100% to being an advocate for clients and prospects. "I'm not afraid to go after anyone's business," he says. "I'm fulfilling a need by finding people who need advice. I ask every client if there's someone I should talk to, literally every time I call." Assets continue to grow at §3 million a month.
Jaffe has added another sales assistant to his team and this summer hired a new associate to draw up financial plans and handle mortgage business. He's on track to reach §4 million this year on §300 million in assets. Now, Jaffe can concentrate on what he says is his expertise: building relationships that will continue through generations. "I'm focused on helping people with their whole life," Jaffe says.
Years in Business: 7
Product Mix: 66% equities and 34% fixed-income securities.
Staff: Four sales assistants and one associate.
How He Started Building Business: In-person prospecting of former real estate clients.
How He Builds Business Now: Asking clients for referrals.
Key Lesson Learned: "The whole business is about doing the right thing for clients. I never forget my word is my bond. Sometimes a big firm isn't personal, so I go to bat for my clients when I have to."
What Clients Want Most: "They want me to be a leader, be decisive, give timely intelligent advice. They don't need someone they can just talk to."
Biggest Competitive Challenge: "People will need someone who provides advice at a fair price. I believe fees will provide a lower cost to clients over time, and I think the new pricing structure at Merrill Lynch will turn out to be advantageous."