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 a pair of joint honorees, Jeff Benson and Emmy Mastel, Financial Planners with Prudential.

How would you describe your firm?

We are a comprehensive financial planning team, assisting our clients as they work towards their specific financial goals. We’ve worked together as a team over the last decade, sharing in the workload, expenses, and revenue of our practice. Additionally, we have two employees that support us and our clients as well. Comprehensive financial planning is at the core of our business and we also provide investment, income, and protection solutions.

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

We believe the essential advisor provides clients not only financial advice, asset management, and financial products, but also is a sounding board for other financial or non-financial decisions the client has encountered or is considering. Clients will leverage the long-term relationship and trust we have built, for an unbiased and unemotional perspective on their situation. Our definition has not changed with COVID-19, as we believe our model of regular communication with our clients is imperative to their financial success.

What does winning the Essential Advisor award mean to you?

The award was a surprise to us, but one we were extremely honored to receive. Our long-tenured clients and referrals from those clients have historically been the indication that we’re doing things the right way. Receiving the award from Envestnet was an external validation of that.

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

The ability to ask good questions and then listen to the answers allows you to get to know your prospects/clients. Having a good baseline understanding of their financial situation, time horizon, risk tolerance, etc. will allow you to provide appropriate recommendations for consideration. Understanding that even though you may know very quickly what the best course of action is for the client, they aren’t necessarily on your timeline. Pushing clients to take action before they are ready is a sign of desperation, rather than one of providing advice and education around a recommended product or solution.

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

We’ve utilized video conferencing with clients to provide the “next best thing” to being face to face. We certainly prefer to meet with our clients together in a meeting room, but the technology allows us to not only see each other, but also gives us the ability to see body language and facial expressions during our review and conversation. We’ve also been utilizing eMoney for our financial planning as well as client review meetings. The aggregation of both assets we manage and don’t manage is helpful in our assessment and review of their financial situation, but clients appreciate the ability for them to see their entire financial picture within one site. Overall, the technology improves efficiency for both the client and advisor.

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

We utilize the Envestnet Intelligence advisor analytics as a tool to assist us in benchmarking our portfolio construction, fees, and performance. We have the ability to view the practice as a whole, segregate the various investment programs we utilize, as well as drill down to each individual account. The addition of fund strategists to our platform has provided additional time previously dedicated to investment research and portfolio construction. We want to provide our clients with the best investment experience for their individual and/or goal-related risk tolerance. The tool provides us data that assists in our efficiency as a team, which also translates into a better client experience, as we’re able to spend more time with the clients.

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

Many of our clients today are juggling multiple financial goals. There are more financial products out there and the complexity has increased. We have found that this makes it difficult for clients to take the time to develop the understanding of what is really needed in their situation. We feel this is a way we can help clients improve their overall financial wellness.

Another key issue for our clients is longevity. People are living longer today, and many of our clients are concerned about outliving their assets. Helping our clients stay focused on their long-term goals and ensuring they have a retirement accumulation and distribution strategy in place is a big part of what we do. We also want to help them monitor that plan, as their life inevitably changes.

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

We have been conducting meetings virtually since mid-March. We have clients all over the country, so for some it was nothing new. For others, it was something to adapt to, but we felt it was important to keep clients on track with their regular reviews and be in touch with our thoughts about the volatile market. We have the benefit of long-term relationships with our clients, so we know them well and they know us. We have also continued to receive referrals during this time. Due to COVID-19, people in general are now more comfortable with using technology, as is our team. In many ways, it has made us more efficient. All of that said, we look forward to the day when we have more face-to-face meetings again.

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

Given the average age of financial advisors in the U.S., we anticipate a contraction of the number of advisors in our industry. We also think the concept of teaming will become a more prevalent model in financial services. We have been teaming before it was a buzzword in our industry and see many benefits to this approach.

In addition, our industry needs to figure out a way to engage the younger generations. Many millennials do not trust Wall Street, or investing their funds, so companies and advisors need to adapt in how we approach this segment of the population.

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

We recognize that one of the most important things we can do for the future of our practice is to continue to broaden the capabilities of the team. That said, we also want to make sure we have the right people on our team. We are in the process of expanding our team by adding a high-quality individual to help serve our clients and their families, as our practice continues to grow. We have spent a lot of time making sure the financial professional we bring on shares the same vision and values we do.

We will also continue to use technology to offer more ways for clients to engage our services. Even when it becomes safe to see people face-to-face on a regular basis, we will continue to offer video conferencing where it makes sense for the clients and us.

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

To make sure you have your own plan in place – from both a financial and business perspective. Like other small business owners, sometimes financial planners are guilty of not spending time to create and follow their own financial plan. Many are so busy serving their clients, they forget to take their own advice – or perhaps even work with another planner for an outside perspective.

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

It is so important for investors to make their financial decisions in conjunction with their overall financial plans. Don’t worry about benchmarking to the S&P 500; rather, focus on what is the required return you need to meet your goals. Don’t worry about what your neighbors or coworkers are investing in, make sure your portfolio is tailored to your specific financial situation. It’s important to sort through all the financial noise out there.

In addition to staying focused on your goals, we caution against making emotional decisions when it comes to your finances. As humans, we are not really wired to “buy low and sell high.” That is where we feel we can really help our clients. We tell them we want to help them take the emotion out of investing. We will do high-fives in the good times and hold hands through the tough times, but we will get through it all together.

Learn more about the Essential Advisor Certification program and this visit Advisor Summit On-Demand to view this year’s Essential Advisor award winners. Don’t miss our interview with one of our other 2020 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. This should not be construed as a recommendation or endorsement of any particular product, service, firm, or individual.

Jeff Benson and Emmy Mastel offer financial planning and investment advisory services through Pruco Securities, LLC (Pruco), under the marketing name Prudential Financial Planning Services (PFPS), pursuant to separate client agreement. Offering insurance and securities products and services as a registered representative of Pruco, and an agent of issuing insurance companies.

Our compensation may be based on a combination of fees and commissions.


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