Investment Giants: The advisors managing millions for the region’s wealthiest

One financial advisor manages more than $600 million in investments for his wealthy northern Michigan clients. Another handles a celebrity’s stock portfolio, among others. Though there is no public, empirical data available ranking financial advisors by dollars under management, many sources like WealthMinder consistently point to the same people in northern Michigan as the “investment giants.”

The TCBN got a few minutes with each of these to hear their biggest tips, their investment horror stories and more – well, as much as they were willing and allowed to share. We discovered some interesting facts and surprises along the way – including the fact that all of the leaders are male.

Branko Gegich, Executive Director, Morgan Stanley

How long have you been managing money?

Since 1982.

Assets under management? 

$663,000,000 as of January 31, 2020.

What is the most important trait in a financial advisor?

Integrity.

What have been the worst days/year and why?

  1. This was a time when many investors had unreasonable expectations about the stock market, because growth and technology stocks were going up in value in a time period that seemed like every day. Historically, that’s not how the stock market works.

 

What have been the best days/year and why?

  1. A very scary time for many investors because of all the uncertainty they were facing and they were not as confident of their own investment decisions doing it on their own. Consequently, I gained many new clients seeking investment advice and guidance.

 

What is the most challenging part of managing multimillionaires’ money?

Making sure you meet their expectations, whatever they are.

What is the biggest crisis facing the industry?   

Investors do not have long enough investment time horizons. Too much information through the media and technology that has had the investor focus on how am I doing today.

What is an investment tip for 2020?

Make sure you have an investment plan in place. There’s an old saying, ‘people don’t plan to fail, but fail to plan.’

 

Jay Batcha, Founder & CIO, Optimal Capital

How long have you been managing money?

I have been managing money for private investors and institutions for 35 years.

Assets under management? 

$351,000,000

What is the most important trait in a financial advisor? 

Protecting clients from natural, unproductive emotional biases.

What have been the worst days/year and why?

Clients have experienced a host of challenging markets over the last three-plus decades: The 1987 crash, Asian foreign currency crisis, internet bubble bursting and the 2008 financial crisis, to name a few. The 2008-2009 mortgage crisis was arguably the worst, because it affected households and businesses more personally and directly. As a result, it left emotional scars that transcended mere market events and caused many investors to be overly cautious during the ensuing bull market.

What have been the best days/year and why?

We founded Optimal Capital in 2006, which allowed us to serve as our clients’ fiduciary at all times, always placing their interests first. Without any platform constraints we were blessed with the ability to act as the client advocate, selecting from an unlimited array of investment opportunities with the best possible pricing.

What is the most challenging part of managing multimillionaires’ money?

Families with substantial wealth demand and deserve the capabilities of a virtual family office, which combines a deeply human client discovery element, a cohesive team of investment, legal and tax professionals, and intricately coordinated systematic processes designed to continuously improve. By combining advanced portfolio management with elite wealth planning, families are able to achieve their optimal financial world.

What is the biggest crisis facing the industry?   

Baby boomer demographics. There is a $400 billion underfunding of corporate pension funds. State and local government pensions are also 40% underfunded at a time when equity and corporate bond markets are at all-time highs. We are at a vertical wall of retirees and it is unlikely these retirement obligations will be met.

What is an investment tip for 2020?

Be cautious after a decade long bull market dominated by U.S. passive equity indices. Favor emerging market value over U.S. growth stocks and avoid lower quality corporate bonds.

 

Glenn Hirt, Managing Director — Investment Officer, Wells Fargo Advisors

How long have you been managing money?

Since 1978.  I was named to the 2018, 2019, and 2020 Forbes Best-in-State Wealth Advisors Ranking. This annual list recognizes advisors as among the top in America.

Assets under management?

I manage just over $300 million.

What is the most important trait in a financial advisor?

I believe credibility and rapport. We need to be efficiently skilled at what we do (and) credible, but at the same time clients need to feel they can develop a sustainable relationship with us, one built on mutual trust and respect.

What have been the worst days/year and why?

The most difficult years will often times produce the most difficult days. It would be easy to assume that a bad year would be one that reflects negative returns in an investor’s portfolio, as a result of negative returns in the markets. However, volatility — big swings in market values — are cause for far greater concern as it relates to investing.  So even though an investor’s portfolio may produce solid returns in any given year, it doesn’t reflect the day-to-day anxiety and aggravation they may have had to endure along the way.

What have been the best days/year and why?

Best years are most often those years where investor portfolios are more likely to end the year higher than they began and when markets remain relatively calm.

What is the most challenging part of managing multimillionaires’ money?

Everyone’s needs – whether emotional, financial or even spiritual – will be different. The more we get to know and identify those needs, the better we are able to serve our clients. And for the most part, the size of a client’s portfolio doesn’t really play into it. However, larger estates do have more moving parts and oftentimes require greater attention to asset distribution at time of death.

What is the biggest crisis facing the industry?   

At this time we don’t see any crisis facing the industry with the Secure Act, Reg BI and other regulations that are designed to help protect investors.

What is an investment tip for 2020?

Invest in an asset allocation mix that reflects your long-term goals, objectives and risk tolerance and most important avoid making emotional decisions at it relates to investing.

 

Jim Mellinger, Financial Advisor, Edward Jones

How long have you been managing money?

Twenty-seven and a half years. I was recruited by the state manager at the time. We just met randomly and we hit it off. He told me about the Edward Jones experience and he wanted to add an office in Traverse City and I lived here. I got my license in 1992.

Assets under management?

$150 million is what I manage.

What is the most important trait in a financial advisor?

The ability to listen. I train new advisors and that is the first thing I tell them, ‘Talk less and listen more.’ The more you listen, the more you learn about someone. The more you know, the better advice and steward of money you can be.

What have been the worst days/year and why?

Emotionally, I am going to say 9/11. That Tuesday was a bad day. There were some things prior to that. The dot-com bubble, WorldCom and all that kind of stuff culminated with the 9/11 disaster. Emotionally, that was the worst day I have had, without question, and for most of America for that matter.

What have been the best days/year and why?

The best days are when the clients just come back and thank you for what you have done for them to allow them to go off into retirement. Or when they thank you for your services over time. I would say following the ’08-’09 disaster where we had to have deep, deep conversations about what we are going to do when the world was looking at everything negative. They thought the whole economy was collapsing. I got thanked a lot afterwards. It was the most gratifying walking people through that time.

What is the most challenging part of managing multimillionaires’ money?

Everyone is a little different and have different perception on things, so navigating that is a challenge. When I see things black and white and they are seeing and thinking purple, that is a challenge. I just understand where they are coming from — the empathy part of that is a challenge. I do enjoy that part of it though. A lot of people want the most amount of return with the least amount of risk. It just doesn’t work that way when you are managing money in the long haul.

What is the biggest crisis facing the industry?   

I don’t know if there is a crisis. Certainly, there is always something that can happen that we can’t see … it used to be weeks before you would see something happen, now it is seconds. Everybody knows everything now.

What is an investment tip for 2020?

Recognize that the market is kind of high. It can go higher. Buy quality, buy safety. Do you your homework and buy quality. And work with a financial advisor.

 

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