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Financial advisor Eric Park loves learning, and his clients love him for it.

Financial advisor Eric Park loves learning, and his clients love him for it. Affiliated with Linsco/Private Ledger in Washington, Mo., and a winner of Registered Rep's Outstanding Broker Award for 2005, Park is a CFP finishing up a Ph.D. in personal financial planning at the University of Missouri's Columbia campus. Now, he's thinking about post-doc studies. “They call me the money doctor,” he says of his clients. The nickname makes sense. “You wouldn't go to a doctor and let him operate on you if he hadn't received his medical degree,” explains Park. “And we are dealing with a lot of people who are investing their livelihoods with us.”

While getting a Ph.D. in financial planning may seem extreme, more top reps and advisors are heading to the classroom (or to online training programs). It's all about being a better resource for clients and building a better business. As investor demand for “comprehensive” wealth management and planning services swells, keeping up with the strategies and products available to fill their needs has gotten more complex.

“The role of the advisor as a wealth manager continues to advance,” says Bob Herrmann, managing director of business development at Wachovia. “So you need to know more. There are so many more issues and products that you have to cover with a client. I also think clients are getting more and more knowledgeable about what they want. Financial advisors don't need to know all of the details, but they need to know how to ask the questions and where to find the information.”

All of the brokers selected for Registered Rep.'s annual Outstanding Brokers Award won the confidence of clients and built prosperous businesses by being serious about continually honing their expertise. Whether that meant getting advanced degrees, obtaining multiple credentials, going beyond the minimum with continuing education requirements or developing a strong specialty in a client niche, these brokers invested the time and the money to make themselves better professionals. They and their clients reaped the rewards.

Our OBA winners are getting plenty of help from institutions like the Investment Management Consultants Association (IMCA), the American College and the College for Financial Planning, as well as their own firms, which continue to roll out beginning and advanced courses and credentials addressing everything from investment policy and performance measurement to long-term-care financing. In fact, the amount of credentials available to advisors today numbers in the dozens, and more are on their way.

Wealth management credentials, in particular, are multiplying rapidly. The College for Financial Planning just launched a new designation called the AWMA, or Accredited Wealth Management Advisor, last September and already has 206 students enrolled. The American Academy of Financial Management recently began offering its CWM, or Chartered Wealth Manager certification. And IMCA has been offering its own three-part wealth management certificate program since mid-2003.

Head of the Class

The most popular advanced certification by far is still the CFP (Certified Financial Planner) license, says Boston-based consulting firm Cerulli Associates. Sanctioned by the Financial Planning Association, it provides broad-based knowledge of key financial planning topics, such as income tax planning and employee benefits. In a 2004 advisor survey, 33 percent of respondents said they hold a CFP certificate; 24 percent of those who don't said they plan to get it. Directly behind the CFP falls the MBA (19 percent of respondents); the CLU, or Chartered Life Underwriter (10 percent); and the ChFC, or Chartered Financial Consultant (10 percent).

But for reps and advisors aiming at the most affluent clients, the CIMA, or Certified Investment Management Analyst credential, offered by IMCA, seems to be a favorite. One-fifth of advisors with a CIMA manage $500 million or more in assets, according to the Cerulli survey, versus 4 percent of advisors with a CFP, and none of those holding a CLU or ChFC. The CIMA focuses on asset allocation, manager selection, investment policy and performance measurement.

While top brokers have taken to the classroom and made lifetime learning a habit, the majority of the estimated 600,000 financial advisors and reps across the nation have not bothered with advanced certification. Most have only the basic licenses required by regulators; about 79 percent have insurance licenses, 78 percent have Series 7 licenses and 71 percent have passed the Series 65, according to Cerulli's data. In addition to the 33 percent that have a CFP, just 4 percent have a CIMA certificate — although another 4 percent say they plan to get a CIMA, Cerulli's survey found.

There are good reasons for that. Many of the credentials, like the CFP, require several years of experience in the industry. (You need three years of experience in financial planning as well as a college degree or certificate from an approved educational program to receive the CFP). And passing the courses isn't easy. Some credentials require up to a year of intensive study: The CIMA wealth management certification, for example, currently requires 18 months of course-work, though they are working on tightening that up to nine months this year. Plus the studying isn't over when an advisor has the credential in hand. To remain certified, you must fulfill continuing education requirements. The CFP Board requires planners to earn 30 continuing education credits every two years to maintain the CFP, as does the American College for its ChFC and CLU designations. IMCA requires 40 hours every two years to keep the CIMA.

Still, top brokers say it's worth the effort. “I've been in the business a long time, and I like to think that there isn't anything I don't know,” says Outstanding Broker Kathy Tully, a CIMA who manages $450 million for Morgan Stanley in Ontario, Calif. “But that's completely wrong. You constantly have to stay on top of everything that's happening, and the only way to do that is by continuing your education not on a weekly basis, but a daily basis.”

Particularly for advisors who want to win, and keep, affluent clients, it's an important investment. In an era when trust is a scarce commodity on Wall Street, additional credentials can give wary investors more confidence. In a survey of affluent investors conducted by the CFP Board in 2004, 86 percent of respondents said successful completion of a certification examination was an important element in the selection of an advisor; 83 percent said successful completion of a curriculum specific to financial planning was important.

“When a client is shopping around for an advisor, they'll say, ‘Yeah, I want an advisor with the CFP.’ Some investors got burned by an advisor at some point, and certain designations help,” says Kirby Horan, senior analyst at Cerulli Associates.

Most firms have been pushing reps into the classroom for several years. Merrill Lynch requires financial advisors to get their CFP. Others, such as Morgan Stanley, have internal credentialing and educational programs. Wachovia says it has customized its continuing education program to focus on particular topics, and every registered associate is required to complete the program. Last year the curriculum focused on regulatory concerns; this year it deals with the company's new wealth management software and retirement programs.

For the best brokers, the process of continuing education never stops. Outstanding Broker Michael Freiman, a CFP and CIMA who manages $440 million for Legg Mason in Washington, D.C., says he wants to know more about his clients investment options than everybody else. “Getting to know the products, doing the due diligence so I can explain them to the people I'm selling them to, that requires keeping educated, all the time.” Freiman cites Jim Brinkley, senior executive vice president and director of Legg Mason: “He always says, ‘A woodsman should never be too busy chopping wood that he forgets to sharpen his ax.’”

Designation Education

A primer on how (and where) to obtain various professional certifications.

Seems every time you turn around, there's a new specialized designation. Do you work with divorcees? Try the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA). What about wealthy donors? Consider the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy (CAP). How about parents of college-bound children? Become a Certified College Planning Specialist (CCPS). Each of these designations involves some study and preparation, plus at least one exam. But, do they really mean you'll do a better job — or attract more clients? That depends, according to advisors who have gone through the process. Lana Hock, vice president of Hoffman & Hock in Phoenix, who received her CDFA two years ago, has found the designation invaluable for getting referrals from law firms and mediators. That said, take a look at this sampling of 16 designations. Does anything strike your fancy? If not, don't worry. There's sure to be a new one announced any day now.

Click here for an exhaustive chart on available designations and where to get them.


Firm: Morgan Stanley

City: New York

Age: 44

Years as a Rep: 18

Years with Current Firm: 6

Production: $2.5 million

AUM: $303 million

Mix: 15% stocks, 15% bonds, 70% managed accounts

Specialty: High-net-worth individuals

Designations: CIMA

Licenses: Series 3, 5, 7, 63, 65

Mark Axelowitz knows the importance of proper asset allocation. His father, a retired IRS agent, lost his life savings when the 1960s go-go market collapsed; it was an event that shaped his approach to the investment advisory business.

When the market fell to bits in October 1987, only three months after Axelowitz had traded a six-figure job at Northern Telecom for a stockbroker position at Smith Barney, he didn't panic because he knew his fledgling book was safely invested in blue-chips.

Even then, however, Axelowitz realized that to really excel as a financial advisor he needed to become more than a savvy stockpicker. That's why he sought the Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) designation. He credits the additional knowledge — in asset allocation, manager search and selection, crafting an investment policy and performance measurement — with helping him differentiate himself from the pack. He notes that the credit requirements to maintain the designation keep him sharp, and that Morgan offers a broad selection of supplemental courses he can participate in.

Axelowitz places a heavy emphasis on wealth preservation. That means developing an asset allocation that looks a bit like the Harvard and Yale endowments — managed equity and fixed-income accounts, hedge funds and managed commodity futures. Overall, the clients take on “somewhere between 30 percent and 60 percent of the risk of the S&P 500,” says Axelowitz

Like many of his clients, Axelowitz is committed to giving back. He is currently penning a book on the value of philanthropy called Do Yourself a Favor. It's a how-to for wannabe givers, with interviews of some well-known philanthropists, like Peggy Rockefeller. Axelowitz also draws from his own experiences: Whether he's raising funds for New York's famed Robin Hood Foundation, a charity founded by Wall Street executives to stamp out poverty, or teaching investment classes at the Boys and Girls Harbor in East Harlem, where he is a director, Axelowitz's charitable devotion mirrors his commitment to his clients.
John Churchill


Firm: RBC Dain Rauscher

City: Philadelphia

Age: 38

Years as a Rep: 15

Years with Current Firm: 3

Production: $1.317 million

AUM: $218 million

Mix: 40% bonds, 40% stocks, 20% managed accounts

Specialty: Ultra-high-net-worth retirement

Designations: CPA

Licenses: Series 7, 43

In 1992, Stephen Cordasco was a student majoring in finance and real estate at Temple University in north Philadelphia. One day, a vice president from Butcher and Singer came to the college's bank and finance clubs to talk about the securities industry. Cordasco was predisposed to a career in brokerage, and after the lecture, he made the first move of his career by following the VP into the subway and begging him for a job. Cordasco was given a job, but his celebration was a muted one; he quickly learned he'd be working for a man who had no clients after two months with the firm.

Thus began Cordasco's lucrative career. After working his way into a broker's position, he chose to focus on detail-oriented planning. Starting from zero, he built his business to $130 million in 10 years. In 2002, he moved to RBC Dain Rauscher as a high-net-worth specialist. He has since nearly tripled his assets under management.

The key, he says, is listening and recognizing that an advisor can't know too much about his clients. To that end, he has a financial psychologist come in once a week to work with him, the team he created shortly after joining RBC and his clients to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“What keeps me up at night aren't the high-net-worth clients I have,” Cordasco says. “It's the clients I have who are worried about their retirement, who just want to make sure they can make it. In a lot of ways, I'm their only hope.”

Cordasco, who also does some investment-oriented radio programs for local stations in his spare time, has four children and works closely with the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia to help raise money for programs for children of broken homes. As a wealth management expert, it puts him in an awkward position: salesman.

“I have to pick up the phone and ask people for more money, and it's uncomfortable for me to do that, ” he says. His emphasis instead: starting with a select group of close associates and letting “referrals work their magic.”

Cordasco claims that he doesn't even know the password to his voice mail, saying he prefers to call his clients before they have a chance to call him. It's the key to his success, he says.

“I've been called an underachiever by some who say I should go out there and try to drum up business rather than have it come to me,” he says. “I just smile and watch all those people try to catch me.”
Will Leitch


Firm: Legg Mason

City: Washington, D.C.

Age: 48

Years as a Rep: 25

Years with Current Firm: 25

Production: $2.52 million

AUM: $440 million

Mix: 77% managed accounts, 11% insurance, 7% stocks, 5% bonds

Specialty: Comprehensive financial planning

Designations: CFP, CIMA

Licenses: Series 7

Michael Freiman doesn't look like a time traveler, but his prescience in matters related to his career is enough to challenge that first impression. Specifically, his choice of firms (Legg Mason) and business model (fee-based planning) have stood the test of time.

At the outset of his career in 1980, Freiman faced a choice between a cold-calling job at a wirehouse and a slightly better one at Baltimore-based Legg — at the time an upstart. He chose the latter.

“People were asking me, ‘Why in the world would you go there? Who the heck is Legg Mason?’” says Freiman. “But I was from the area, and I felt like they had a similar mindset about product as I did. So I signed up.”

Legg at the time had 18 branches and 220 advisors. Twenty-five years later, Freiman is one of 1,480 advisors at 140 branches worldwide, and Legg is considered one of the highest quality shops around (see the feature on the firm on page 67).

Freiman's book has grown along with his firm's fortunes.

“My clients are comfortable that I'm a stable entity, and they know that if they trust me with their money, I'm not going anywhere,” Freiman says.

Another positive choice for Freiman: creating a fee-based practice. In 1984, when hawking stock and bonds was in vogue, Freiman earned his Certified Financial Planning (CFP) designation. Twenty years later, 80 percent of his business is fee-based, with a total of 1,900 households as clients.

“I just wanted to learn as much as I could about the industry,” Freiman says. “I can't say I foresaw just how far the industry would move in that direction. I'm glad it has, though.”

A graduate of the University of Maryland — where he met his wife Ann — Freiman helps mentor MBA candidates at the Robert Smith School of Business, a position he finds ironic.

“I look at that school now, and there's no way I could get in today,” he says. “I've been pretty fortunate.”


Firm: Advest

City: Cincinnati

Age: 52

Years as Rep: 21

Years with Current Firm: 4

Production: $1.7 million

AUM: $200 million

Mix: 60% equity, 30% bond, 10% noncorrelated

Specialty: 401(k), individuals, corporations

Designations: AAMS, Registered Player Financial Advisor (certified by the National Football League Players Association)

Licenses: Series 7, 31, 63, 65

Everything about Walter Lunsford screams dedication and hard work. The Advest advisor paid his way through the University of Ohio with a variety of down-and-dirty jobs at local grocery stores. At 52, he works 65 hours a week and, though much of his new business comes from referrals, he still cold calls for new clients.

Lunsford “relaxes” by working on his 250 acre beef cattle and Texas Longhorn farm in nearby Kentucky, “bush-hogging” pasture and clearing woods.

“I am as energized today about the prospects of my business and our industry as I was 20 years ago,” he says.

A large part of Lunsford's work-related energy is spent on continuing education. On top of holding the College for Financial Planning's accredited asset management specialist (AAMS) certification, he is currently enrolled to get the Chartered Retirement Planning Specialist (CRPS) designation. He is also in an accelerated nine-month course at Cincinnati's Xavier University to receive its certificate in financial planning and is sitting for the CFP exam in October. And he can't pass up the Advest Institute, he says, an in-house program that offers annual courses in coordination with Harvard University.

“[Continuing education] is a real thrust in my practice,” says Lunsford. “I think our business demands it, especially as we introduce noncorrelated or low correlated products to client portfolios.”

Lunsford and his team cater to high-net-worth individuals (40 percent of his business), corporations and not-for-profits (45 percent) and manage an extensive book of retirement plans (15 percent).

His other passion is charity work. He has a special interest in good parenting and spends a great deal of time at a non-profit he started called GIFTS — Global Institute for Father's Teaching Sons. He also helps out his friend Anthony Munoz, a former professional football player, whose foundation supports a sports program for inner-city kids.

“There's nothing better than giving away money,” he says. It's that pleasure in the fruits of his hard work that seem to make Lunsford tick.
Kristen French


Firm: Morgan Keegan

City: Memphis, Tenn.

Age: 45

Years as Rep: 17

Years with Current Firm: 17

Production: $1.12 million

AUM: $175 million

Mix: 50% stocks, 30% bonds, 20% managed assets

Specialty: Trucking industry, business succession planning

Designations: AMWA, working on CFP

Licenses: Series 7, 65

Ward Mayer caters to an unusual niche: trucking executives. When the Morgan Keegan advisor was referred to his first trucking industry client 10 years ago, he didn't know much about the industry. But he was intrigued.

“It's a very misunderstood, entrepreneurial and technology-driven industry,” says Mayer. “Most of my clients started out with one truck.”

As more industry referrals rolled in from the client's friends, Mayer started going to trucking conferences and conventions. Soon enough, he was an expert.

Mayer says that dedication to knowledge of his niche has been key to his success. “I not only help my clients on a financial basis, but I also keep up with the industry,” he says. Today about half of his 260 clients have roots in the trucking business. He takes extra advantage of his expertise by putting a slice of client portfolios in trucking stocks.

“Probably less than 5 percent,” the advisor admits, but the investments help him stay interested in the industry's financial health. It's all part of a larger commitment Mayer has to educating himself about his clients needs.

“For an advisor to grow, continuing education is critical, especially when dealing with high-net-worth clients,” he says. Mayer recently got his Accredited Wealth Management Advisor (AWMA) designation from the College for Financial Planning, and is currently spending six to seven hours a week studying for the CFP exam.

Because many of his trucking clients work in family-run businesses, Mayer spends a lot of time on business succession planning, he says. One recent triumph: By using an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) to structure a partial buyout of a $120 million family-owned business, he saved $6 million in taxes for one squabbling clan. To get that tax advantage, the family members that wanted out sold 30 percent to the employees in the firm, then reinvested it directly in U.S. corporate debt. “We kept everyone happy.”


Firm: Olcott Consulting Group, Wachovia

City: McLean, Va.

Age: 54

Years as a Rep: 22

Years with Current Firm: 12

Production: $2.2 million

AUM: $875 million

Mix: 15% funds, 85% managed accounts

Specialty: Investment consulting to nonprofit organizations

Designations: CIMA, CAE

Licenses: Series 7, 3, 63, 65

Rob Olcott manages finances for some prominent associations and nonprofits. But there's one he's not quite ready to face: AARP.

With more than 20 years in business, Olcott is nowhere near ready to retire. Instead, he chooses to focus on 70 other groups — mostly in the D.C. area — that his advisory group serves.

Olcott describes his present situation as “the result of a lot of luck arising from a situation that otherwise looked really gloomy.” Olcott finished grad school in 1974, the year of the Arab oil embargo, Richard Nixon's resignation, a national recession and a weak stock market. His first job was with the National School Boards Association, but he soon caught the attention of Len Reinhart, an executive in the consulting department of E.F. Hutton who is now the CEO of Lockwood Financial. Reinhart asked Olcott to set up a unit focused on nonprofits at Hutton.

Olcott wasn't exactly brimming with confidence as he took the job: “I didn't have any idea what they were talking about,” he says.

His confusion was short-lived. Today, he helps some of the country's most prominent nonprofits — including the National Foundation for Cancer Research and the American Heart Association — set investment goals and objectives, analyze their risk tolerance and develop appropriate asset allocations.

Working with these institutions has encouraged Olcott to get involved too. He rounds up kids from his affluent McLean, Va., neighborhood to work at the D.C. Food Bank and mentors adult men who have finished drug rehab and are trying to put their lives back together.

Nonprofits may offer generous psychic rewards, but that does not make them easy clients. Olcott says the complexities of their finances and constantly changing boards means that he has to continually educate the clients. His group works hard to create jargon-free reports, for instance. “The key to success with nonprofits is putting in the time, meeting them, volunteering for projects, helping recruit members.” he says.


Firm: A.G. Edwards

City: Greenville, S.C.

Age: 42

Years as a Rep: 20

Years with Current Firm: 15

Production: $1.5 million

AUM: $300 million

Mix: 85% managed accounts, 10% stocks, 5% bonds

Specialty: Faith-based foundations and individuals

Professional Designations: CIMA

Licenses: Series 7, 63

Many advisors say their business is a “calling.” Kenneth Parham believes it.

In 1985, when Parham started his practice in Greenville, S.C., he approached it as another way to serve others — just as his Presbyterian faith requires. And he found it, conveniently enough, an excellent way to find — and hold onto — clients.

“It's a bigger picture than just investing or just money,” Parham says. “It's much more like a mission. We are believers and followers in Jesus Christ, and we live out our faith in the marketplace. That resonates well with people in the faith communities.”

Parham grew his business “considerably” during the economic downturn around 2002-04, thanks largely to his conservative investing style and long-term planning. Half of his clients, he says, are church institutions, and the other half are high-net-worth individuals with “mostly spiritual mindsets.”

The most important investing aspect for his Christian clients is trust; if word can spread that assets are being invested by a like-minded trustworthy advisor, referrals come fast and furious. He says the most important aspect of his practice is the stewardship of assets; “much of our work is preserving wealth and passing it on to the rest of the family. Family is obviously at the forefront.”

But Parham points out that it's not simply a matter of flashing a Christian card. Parham is quick to note that working with Christians — he has 125 clients total — and church endowments have their own challenges. There are long lead times and the tendency to make decisions in protracted consensus, community-driven ways. Often, he says, a series of prospecting meetings can take months or even years. And they also don't tend to be decadently wealthy either. “A lot of these people are desperately in need of help,” he says. And not all that help comes from above.


Firm: Steamboat Financial Group (an LPL affiliate)

City: Washington, Mo.

Age: 48

Years as a Rep: 24

Years with Current Firm: 10

Production: n/a

AUM: $150 million

Mix: 25% stocks, 25% bonds, 50% managed accounts

Specialty: Retirement planning for individuals and corporations

Designations: CFP, CFS, Ph.D. candidate

Licenses: Series 6, 7, 8, 63

Eric Park's clients will never accuse him of not knowing enough. A former economics professor, Park is a CFP on his way to wrapping up a doctorate degree in personal financial planning at the University of Missouri's Columbia campus, where he is not only a student but the president of the department's advisory board.

When he's not studying or interviewing prospective professors for the department, Park keeps up with industry literature and, as a volunteer, serves as president of the local humane society — a chapter he founded — and helps manage the endowment of the local community college. A self-described information junkie, Park says he's driven by his own intellectual curiosity.

But he knows what he doesn't know. “If I'm not an expert at it, I don't do it, like insurance,” he says. His expertise is “retirement planning in the context of financial planning” for individuals and small businesses, primarily in and around Washington, Mo. — population 12,000, 50 miles southwest of St. Louis.

Park got his start with St. Louis-based A.G. Edwards after college and began building his business with shoe leather and cold calls.

Over the years, Eric has built a stable of important professional relationships that have helped his business tremendously. “If they're a physician, attorney or accountant around here, they're likely a client of mine,” jokes Park. These men and women also provide good referrals. “Patients and clients of theirs want to know where they get advice from,” he says.

Eric says having a good bedside manner has helped him gain the trust and loyalty of clients, but he's most proud of his efforts to educate himself and keep on top of the industry. “What you knew five years ago is purely a foundation for what you need to know now,” he says.


Firm: Merrill Lynch

City: Houston

Age: Cristina 49, Eloise 50

Years as Rep: 18 each

Years with Current Firm: 18 each

Production: $1.05 million each

AUM: $127 million each

Mix: 5% stocks, 25% domestic bonds, 20% international bonds, 25% mutual funds, 10% forex, 10% liability management, 5% structured products

Specialty: Wealth management for Latin American clients

Designations: International Financial Advisor, International Wealth Management Advisor

Licenses: Each has a Series 7 and 63

Cristina Moore and Eloise Hodgson say that, in a way, they're like diplomats. The Merrill Lynch advisors, who began their brokerage careers as a team 18 years ago, cater to high-net-worth clients living in Latin America, and, in many cases, they are their clients' only link to the U.S.

“The relationship is so key, and it needs to be even broader than with American clients,” says Moore. “We've been in some situations where we set up heart surgery, or investigate a boarding school for their child. They really want to have this person that they trust completely,” she says.

The women's Latin American backgrounds help: Cristina's parents are refugees from Cuba, while Eloise grew up in Nicaragua. “In Latin America, political and economic concerns are different than here,” says Moore. “Latin Americans are more sensitive to certain ways of approaching them. You can't ask them in the first meeting, ‘How much money do you have?’”

More importantly, they have made a big effort to specialize their knowledge of Latin American investment products and strategies. They are continuously taking parallel programs to stay abreast of changes in the industry — international tax law, international investments, international trusts, Swiss banking — and they have received special licenses through Merrill called the International Financial Advisor and International Wealth Manager designations.

Hodgson and Moore say they like to give back to their communities in as many ways as they can. Through a program at Merrill, they both mentor children in the local community from second grade through the end of high school. Eloise, a survivor of breast cancer, also mentors other women with the disease.

Hodgson and Moore say that aside from their deep knowledge of clients, one of the things that has contributed most to their success is teamwork. They approach their practice as a 50/50 proposition, splitting everything down the middle — including client relationships.

“There are always clients that we each deal primarily with, but they also know that the other one of us is completely familiar with their portfolio,” says Moore. “Clients have said they really like this. And it adds tremendous value, especially when we travel.”


Firm: Morgan Stanley

City: Ontario, Calif.

Age: “Younger than most of my clients think.”

Years as a Rep: 22

Years with Current Firm: 22

Production: $1.54 million

AUM: $450 million

Mix: 40% managed accounts, 30% funds, 15% stocks, 15% bonds

Specialty: Retirement planning and wealth preservation

Designations: Rule 144 specialist, working on CFP

Licenses: Series 7, 63, 38

Kathy Tully started her professional career working with green, but the wrong kind.

In her eight years at Del Monte she learned all she wanted to know about green beans and other vegetables. The most important lesson: “Green beans have pretty low sales margins,” the now successful Morgan Stanley advisor says.

The realization convinced Tully to try her hand in a more lucrative industry. In 1983, she joined the cold-calling desk at Dean Witter. As part of her effort to stand out from the crowd of stock-hawkers, she focused on getting those who would take her calls to attend an IRA seminar.

“That set me apart from a lot of people,” she says. “Back then, IRAs were pretty new.” They were about to become the foundation of her practice. She would emphasize the importance of retirement planning to anyone who would listen, and when she signed a new client, she'd do something even more unusual: She'd call his CPAs and attorneys.

Her goal was to do some basic education of the lawyers and accountants on IRA and 401(k) issues so that all the client's professionals would be on the same page. A side effect of the phone calls: They generated more business.

“The referrals just stacked on top of each other,” Tully says. “CPAs were referring their mothers to me, and that's when you know you've made it.”

As the industry has changed, Tully has done what she can to stay ahead of the game, studying for her CFP designation and making sure she is providing extra services for a client base she describes as “more educated about what they're doing with their money than ever.”

But perhaps the most important of her skills is the ability to connect with her clients — who now number 800 — on an interpersonal level.

“When close family members of my clients die, I'm often the first person they call, and I'm invited to more weddings and graduations than I can handle.” she says. “They know I've been watching out for them, and that helps everybody sleep better at night.”

On May 12, this year's Outstanding Broker Award winners will be feted at a ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange. The event is sponsored by Pioneer Investments, which offers its congratulations to the 10 honorees.

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