Congratulations to this year’s Essential Advisor award winners! While we were unable to honor them in-person at this year’s Summit, we’d like to acknowledge their hard work, expertise, and insights. The interview below features one of this year’s honorees, Marty James, President of Martin James CPA, PC and Managing Partner of Martin James Investment and Tax Management, LLC.

How would you describe your firm’s value proposition?

We focus on a holistic approach, where we look beyond our clients’ investments. Only with this big picture can we make recommendations on everything from tax planning to asset protection strategies to truly help them achieve their goals.

What is your definition of “essential advisor?” Has your definition changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Many advisors focus singularly on investments. An essential advisor takes on more of an advisory role, defining a client’s goals and needs and then building a corresponding plan and investment platform. The pandemic has amplified the value of this approach. Clients are confused—the economic data is scary, but the markets are doing well. They have concerns and are worried about when the other shoe will drop. They need someone to guide them through this period, who can help them navigate the full scope of their financial lives.

What does winning the Essential Advisor award mean to you?

It really is an honor to be recognized, and it confirms that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. That feels good!

What skills do you believe best position advisors for success, especially in the current environment?

It’s so important to be fully engaged with your clients right now. They need to know that you’re available and ready to listen. Take the time to understand and address the issues and concerns they’re facing. It’s all about empathy and personal connection.

How do you and your firm leverage technology to better serve your clients? Have you recently implemented new technology as a result of a more remote communication model?

We had to move to a remote model very quickly, which wasn’t a previous part of our structure. We took very early action to make this shift, as of March 1st. Since then, we’ve been focused on optimizing and scaling our approach. We’re figuring out the best ways to share information, to communicate, to let clients know that we’re thinking about them. We’re about to launch a more client-facing portal to make a lot of this easier and more secure. Our clients have embraced these changes. The transition has been seamless for most of them because they’re used to using technology to communicate with their children and grandchildren. Now, we’re set up to service our prospects and clients throughout the relationship via a remote environment.

What role does Envestnet play in helping you to deliver better outcomes for your clients?

The Envestnet platform is so robust. It enables us to do our job to the best of our abilities. We use Envestnet’s Unified Managed Account (UMA), which offers a diversified, tax-aware, multi-asset portfolio in a single account. As a result, we’re able to serve our clients more tactically and dynamically.

What are the biggest challenges facing your clients as they seek to achieve financial wellness?

It’s not uncommon for a client to focus on a specific concern, distracting them from something even more concerning. In those cases, it’s about education. However, our clients tend to have the same macro concerns related to running out of money in retirement, reducing their taxes, paying for long-term care, etc.

How have your client relationships or interactions changed or evolved over the past few months?

Before the pandemic, we’d have four or five in-person client meetings a day. Obviously, that has changed! Our team and our clients have shifted remarkably well, and I believe that our emphasis on communication and relationships have made a real difference.

What changes do you see taking place within the industry in the next three-to-five years?

I believe there will be a greater emphasis on value-added services, particularly financial planning and tax planning. Advisors will need to find ways to be a go-to person for their clients, someone who has a vast network and can help them in ways that other advisors cannot.

As the industry evolves—and investors along with it—how are you and your firm navigating the changing landscape?

Our holistic approach is critical. We are able to provide advice to almost anyone who needs it—no matter who it is, there’s always one more thing you can do to help them. I think that model will serve us well moving forward. We’re also looking for ways to enable scalability. That’s top of mind for a lot of firms right now.

If you could offer one piece of advice to your peers, what would it be?

Look for opportunities to expand your knowledge base. Drive your business as an “answer person.” Look beyond just investments.

If you could offer one piece of advice to investors, what would it be?

The last 10 years have not been normal. That’s an important realization. Further, I think more investors need to prioritize the distribution of their assets. A lot of advisors are good at the accumulation phase, but the earlier you start planning for tax-efficient distribution, the better. Protect yourself and your assets.

Learn more about the Essential Advisor Certification program and this visit Advisor Summit On-Demand to view this year’s Essential Advisor award winners.

The information, analysis and opinions expressed herein are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views of Envestnet. These views reflect the judgment of the author as of the date of writing and are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing contained in this piece is intended to constitute legal, tax, accounting, securities, or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment, nor a solicitation of any type.

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