Commonwealth Financial Network announced in February the appointment of Karen McColl to lead Commonwealth’s product and service integration for its advisor support platform.
McColl, most recently at insurance and retirement plan provider MassMutual, is responsible for remodeling Commonwealth’s advisor support around areas like advanced financial planning, insurance, annuities, and investment and retirement consulting.
“The more our advisors can rely on [Commonwealth’s] expertise, I believe that really frees them up to really assist their current clients and to continue to grow their book of business.
In her earlier career, McColl headed product divisions at Evergreen Investments and Fidelity. At MassMutual, she began as head of investment management for MML Investors Services, the company’s broker/dealer and registered investment advisor channel where she oversaw approximately 8,000 advisors and $45 billion in client assets. From there, McColl took up a position at the parent company as the head of institutional solutions in January 2020, just a year before joining Commonwealth.
McColl is one of seven hires Commonwealth has made since last year, including Matthew Chisholm as the head of practice management in January, a new chief human resource officer, Jane Moyer, in April and then a new chief financial officer, Jonathan Cleasby, from Ameriprise Financial Services in June.
The Boston-based McColl spoke with WealthManagement.com about what is coming next for Commonwealth’s advisor support services.
WealthManagement.com: What can the industry expect from Commonwealth’s announcement that it will remodel its advisor support services?
Karen McColl: Very succinctly, what this demonstrates is the commitment to the wealth management business. And what I'm charged with is to make sure that our advisors have access to efficient and effective products, services, platforms and solutions that they need to help their clients reach their goals and also allow the advisors to grow their business in a scalable manner.
An example of our advanced planning area: We have a team of highly credentialed, highly experienced folks that our advisors can tap into when they need specialized, high-value assistance with things like estate planning, tax management, setting up trusts and charitable accounts. We're also in the area of insurance and annuities where, let’s face it, it can be a little complex and cumbersome.
In investment consulting, we have a team of folks that are helping our advisors look at portfolio construction, at optimizing portfolios, at manager selection, at evolving how we're building portfolios given the changing circumstances of clients.
We're doing the same thing on the retirement side. It's not just building the portfolios and choosing underlying managers. It's also being an expert at the regulatory part and making sure that we're meeting all of the risk requirements and fiduciary obligations.
It's such a resource rich organization. We're hoping that more and more Commonwealth affiliated advisors tap into these resources and really take advantage of them.
There are continued opportunities for advisers to lean on us for things like portfolio construction, portfolio management and manager selection. Sometimes navigating all of the regulations, the tax rules and all of those complexities can end up taking a lot of time away from some of the core elements of what the advisor needs to do, which is to spend time with their existing clients.
WM: How are you going to go about all of this?
KM: The biggest driver is by listening to our advisors [and] understanding their needs or challenges.
[The resources are] going to come internally. We naturally have to understand the competition and how we fare with the competition and the bigger picture trends in our industry. Across all financial services there is a melding of providers where the industry is under some pricing pressure.
WM: How long do you think this will take?
KM: That's hard to say. I haven't been given any kind of a time-boxed mandate. I've been here a month now, and I've been really spending my time observing and meeting with the various people on the team trying to understand current processes, opportunities and challenges even for myself.
I need a few months here to really think about, ‘Okay. What is the strategy for wealth management? What needs to be built? What needs to be delivered? And what kind of time frame do we have?’
I'm confident that as we uncover and identify areas for service improvements, product improvements, doing different things on the platform, that the organization will be very good about getting behind that and moving swiftly.
WM: What prompted you to join Commonwealth?
KM: I have admired Commonwealth for a very long time just due to its reputation, it's culture and its business model. When I had heard about this role and what commonwealth was looking for, it felt like a really good fit with my background as well as aligned very nicely with some of my own career goals. I'm excited and eager to learn and to be able to contribute to the continued success of the organization.
Mass mutual is a fantastic organization. Although it's an insurance firm, I was very focused on the investment side of things. I could have continued to grow; I had a great path and trajectory and I think very highly of everyone that's there.
This role, though, when I saw it, and I was able to speak to my now boss, Greg Gohr (former senior vice president, now managing principal), Wayne Bloom (CEO) and others, it just felt right.