Ex-Wirehouse Exec Back on the Front Lines with Morgan Stanley
Wealth manager Chris Poch, who began his career as a registered representative with Merrill Lynch in the mid-1980s, has come full circle in his career. The former executive at brokerage giants Smith Barney and LPL Financial, as well as at top-tier multifamily offices Glenmede and Bessemer, says he’s happy to have reclaimed his mission by returning to his roots as a financial advisor – this time out with Morgan Stanley’s Private Wealth Management unit.
The following discussion, which has been edited for clarity, focuses on why, about 10 months ago, Washington, D.C.-based Poch returned to working directly with high-net-worth clients — and why he chose to resume this work on a wirehouse platform instead of joining or starting an independent practice.
Q: This is a conversation I’ve been dying to have. Your move to Morgan Stanley intrigues me — especially for coming after many years in helping large forces of brokerage-based FAs improve client service. What was behind that?
A: This whole business is evolving. Everyone knows it. But to understand where I am now it might be worth understanding how this evolution has played out over the course of my career so far. Until the mid-nineties, it was basically stock brokerage, pure stock brokerage. I mean calling Dr. and Mrs. Jones about muni bonds. From that time until the crisis it became more consultative, and genuinely so. It was less about selling but still largely driven by investment research. Since the financial crisis, however, it has become much more about wealth management – a development still very much in an evolutionary stage as the industry moves more toward client service. Simply, I think Morgan Stanley is three to four years into a focus to be all-in with wealth management.
Q. But you could have gone independent, right? You could have thrown in with an established RIA or started your own boutique. Why did you choose to join a wirehouse?
A: It helps to be affiliated with good management and a strong brand that’s backed by really good technology and investment platforms, and good overall processes. It helps too that they understand and support what I’m doing.
Q: Which is what?
A: It gets to a couple of things. I get real joy from teaching and mentoring — whether that’s from working with clients or — as at one stage — with other advisors. My core message is that you’ve got to be thoughtful, especially the taxable families I work with. Against the mantra that you’ve got to be fully invested, it’s maybe not bad to have cash on hand and a commitment to high-quality investments. My view — and there are smarter people out there with similar ideas — is that when you start with high quality, you finish with high quality. I also like to focus on helping to simplify my clients’ financial lives. In the late nineties, just for myself and my family, I put together a list of all our stuff — will, trust documents, contact information, credit cards. Then I started offering that service to my clients.
Q: You were at Smith Barney then. Was that the start of Smith Barney’s Private Wealth Management group?
A: It was. Jay Mandelbaum, who ran Smith Barney’s Private Client division back then, liked what I was doing. He recognized that everyone runs into a nightmare when a close relative dies and you have to find all this stuff. After I walked him through the whole process, he said I should lead an effort to make services like that available to more clients.
Q: From there you went to the parent company — to Citigroup’s international business, also as a wealth management executive, and then you joined LPL as head of its trust unit. Now that you’re back in the trenches, so to speak, do you miss being an executive?
A: Yes and no. It was a heady rise when Citigroup was on top of the world, and it was fun flying on planes with Mike Carpenter and Sallie Krawcheck. But it wasn’t the best job for me. One of my favorite bosses along the way used to say the best job in this business was being a producing branch manager. He meant for the ability to help colleagues and make money. That’s what I’m doing now, being a coach and mentor to clients and colleagues alike.