Jack Sharry: Thanks, everyone, and welcome to WealthTech on Deck. This is Jack Sharry, and I’m joined today by my longtime and good friend, Steve Gresham. We’ve worked together, we’ve played together, we’ve done some interesting things, certainly, in our workspace, and today, he’s going to be our guest. I’m really looking forward to having a chat with Steve and some of the things he’s working on. He’s working on, as always, in the forefront of our industry. So, Steve, welcome. Good to have you with us today.
Steve Gresham: Thank you, Jack, good to see you.
Jack Sharry: So you have innovated, disrupted, contributed a great deal to our industry over the course of many decades. At this point. We will talk about your time at Fidelity. So hang on to that for a little bit. But just give our audience, if you would, a sense of some of the highlights of what you did before you joined Fidelity and then we’ll get into what you’re working on since Fidelity in a little bit. So, Steve, take it away.
Steve Gresham: Well, thank you and, I appreciate the reference to the many decades. So let’s just hop over that. So you know, it’s been a wild ride at times. But that is… that’s kind of how I like it.
Jack Sharry: Yep, I’ve been there for many, with the… without a net, actually. I’ve been down watching the high wire act.
Steve Gresham: Well, thank you. So, but that is the way I like it, you know, the clients keep us on our toes, the advisors need us to keep things simple, the companies are trying to facilitate the work between those two groups, you know, reducing the friction has always been important. And the perspective that I’ve been able to acquire very early in my career, I think helped set that stage. So, you know, I started on the analytical side, believe it or not. So analyzing companies, and then I became a actually a very, very young Portfolio Manager for a mutual fund group based in Canada. And not a lot going on in the markets at that time. The Dow Jones was about 800, if you want to date us all through those, through those decades. But you know, and to this day, I’m a not very good investor more so because I’m a lousy timer. So I wasn’t a great portfolio manager, but I was an extraordinary analyst. So for what little value that may have. So I’m probably more insightful about what is going to happen than necessarily the timing. And so sometimes you just get that wrong. But anyway, the you know, timing isn’t always ideal. I had a book of advisory clients that I began to work with after being a PM. And that’s actually what connected me to managed accounts before it was really popular. And I sold that advisory book in October of 1987, just before the market crashed, and again, I thought my timing was terrific, then, but the Dow is 1700. So, you know, let’s, let’s just talk about timing. So anyway, but I really wanted to work on a bigger scale than my own book. And so I was able to join the headquarters team at the advisory firm, I worked at, Advest, which is subsequently was, was acquired by Merrill Lynch. So we built some of the industry’s first accounts that worked with fees. We had different kinds of accounts, because we had different kinds of advisors in the firm. So discretionary portfolio manager kind of programs that I was in, we call it Rep as PM today. Fee based brokerage accounts were a new thing until that was shut down later on. But the real story of managed accounts was the shift. That shift from taking stockbrokers and people were selling individual bonds, stocks, mutual funds, unit trusts, and turning them into people who delegated the management of those assets to professionals, and then showed performance. And what a gigantic innovation that was because now advisors could prospect for clients by asking them how they were doing. And of course, they didn’t know how they were doing, whether they were institutions or pension funds, you know, even local small funds, but just ordinary people just didn’t know how they were doing. And that isn’t that long ago, but it was an interesting break. And so I sort of bounced back and forth between the advisor world, advisor companies ,and investment manager firms, as you know, and working the tension on both sides of that as the industry developed. And there was always an opportunity because again, if you keep your eyes focused on the clients and the ease of doing business with the advisors, it was not that hard to find stuff to do. And so you know, those fee based accounts matured into different forms. I worked on some lifecycle target date funds that didn’t turn out so well. It was great idea, but I got fired. But then I was on the other side and we were able to spin up Merrill Lynch Private Wealth in the global marketplace. So, bounced all over from Singapore to Sevilla, and just had a fabulous time with all that, before I got drawn into this company, Phoenix Investment Partners, by my friend, Jack Sharry, you know, one dark night in New York City in 2001. And sort of the rest is history.
Jack Sharry: Talk a little bit about that, because we had some fun together. At Phoenix Investment Partners, we were the first multi manager collection of boutiques with a single sales force. And where we’re going with all this in terms of talking about Steve’s background is what you’re working on today, but maybe relate what we did back then, and what that turns into maybe today, kind of fast forward through some of that, we’ll come back to Fidelity in just a little bit, but a lot of what we started at Phoenix Investment Partners, now Virtus Investment Partners, for those who are familiar with that company. It’s really a collection of of managers focused on advisory programs, and, and some pretty cool tools that we developed. So maybe talk a little bit about that, if you would,
Steve Gresham: Yeah, absolutely. So the innovations around Phoenix, were more that instead of just being a, you know, a sales shill for the individual investment management companies, we were actually pioneering the concept of helping the advisor build their practice. And so that put us in partnership with Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, the client firms that we had, plus the independent advisors. And so what we really focused on was helping them build. And so that ended up being a couple of different things. On the tool side, and tools you’ll see is a theme for your life, my life, you know, it’s an incredibly important part of helping to facilitate ease of doing business by the advisor, make that work with the client all that much simpler. And one of the first innovations was to be able to show how different managers complemented each other in a thing we call the bubble chart. And it was provided to Merrill Lynch, amazing, because I don’t think in these days and times, any of the firm’s would have allowed a third party to provide those kinds of presentation basics that were helping the client and the advisor connect. But it was a critical thing to have at the time, because all these different managers were not yet synthesized well in a solution for the client. Hard to believe today because of that level of integration being so important, and such a basic, but we didn’t have that. And at the same time, I recall a conversation where we said, well, you know what, we should be the guys that wrote the book on managed accounts. And so we did, and then after that, it was a big focus on practice building, the common sense approach to building those relationships with clients, so that no matter what would happen with the performance of the managers, the advisors would look to us as the tiebreaker because we had all that practice management support and insight into how to, how to help them build.
Jack Sharry: Yeah, Steve, I’m not sure I ever told you this story, but Dave Ferrier was the head of managed accounts at the time. He was the gatekeeper, basically, due diligence, head of due diligence at Merrill. Alan Sislen ran the show. And actually, you well know, we bought us a bunch of managers, Roger Engemann and Duff & Phelps and Seneca Capital Management. When I went into tell Mr. Ferrier, the wonder… the half a billion dollars we spent buying asset managers and how great it would be for a single sales force to sell that, he wagged his finger at me and said, “I think it’s a bad idea. And if it doesn’t work, which I don’t think it will, we’re gonna fire you.” Which is why we went to the bubble charts, why we went to what we call the complementary investment analysis, a way to look at multiple products from multiple managers combined. And what you brought to the table, in addition to understanding how to work with our folks to make that real, you also did the practice management thingayb. Maybe talk about that, that balance of product and practice management. And frankly, all this was done probably the first technology tool in the industry. Back in the day…
Steve Gresham: I think it was the… you know, at the time, maybe it’s also important for people who are not active in the industry at the time, you think about this, this moment. So this is 2001. And not very long after joining you at Phoenix, I’m sitting at home in my apartment in New York City. And we have what unfolds in that day of 9/11. One of the responses that we had, in addition to me having to hop down to the office to make sure everybody could get out, go home immediately. And then though, just the whole day of that horrible moment in September 2001 was to then say, now what? And it was interesting that, again, if you pay attention to the people, the clients, the advisors, and I started talking to some of the wholesalers just to check in with them because they’re of course scattered all over the country. And just making sure everybody is okay. And they want to talk to somebody who happens to actually be in New York at the time. By the very next day, we were actually having a conversation, one of the wholesalers joined me and we sat on the floor of my office and we started putting pages of stuff together that would tell a story that the clients would want to hear, something that would be calming, that would basically put that crisis in perspective, because they wanted to know what to do. There’s, of course, the incredibly human thing. And as that unfolds, they then start to wonder, “Oh, well, how’s this going to affect my money?” And that’s not an unnatural view. So we actually called the program Crisis in Perspective. And by Thursday, 9/11 was on a Tuesday, by Thursday, we were doing our first client programs, these were in San Diego, but far away from the story itself. But we were having programs talking to advisors’ clients. And we weren’t trying to sell anything, we were saying, here’s some horrible things that have happened in the past history of the United States. Here’s how the markets and the economy tended to react both in the immediate aftermath, and a little farther along. And so we had conversations with people. And interestingly, not all the major firms wanted to play because they thought that clients seminars, I remember one CEO saying, client seminars would be inappropriate at this time. Well, yeah, if you view the seminar as something that you’re trying to use to sell something to somebody, but our approach was quite different. Which was, let’s just share some information about what’s been happening. We collected IOUs over the course of the next three months that we would cash in for years because we actually made an agreement amongst ourselves, as you recall, that we would put on, I believe the number was 300 or 350 client programs between that moment in September and the end of the year, just to get people talking again. And the response was incredible, it was cathartic for a lot of clients.
Jack Sharry: So Steve, having spent much of my career as a colleague of yours and continue to this day, while in different businesses, you have had a natural bent for having a good ear for the marketplace as to what’s needed at both the client and advisor level and what that dialogue might look like. You understand the role that product plays and putting that together, the role of putting multiple products and capabilities together, of storytelling, and then tying it all in a bow with technology. So I’m going to fast forward because what we did at Phoenix Investment Partners was not only a lot of fun, but we were the fastest growing, simply managed account manager in the universe at the time. So it worked. I’m going to fast forward, you wound up at Fidelity. You worked with Kathy Murphy, she just recently announced her retirement as President of Personal Investing there. As I recall, and fill us in, she invited you in early in her tenure, I think when she got started at Fidelity, or at least the area that she oversaw, it was a trillion dollars and when she announced her retirement, it was closer to 4 trillion. I’m shocked that she would think of such a thing. But I think she invited you in to be “Disruptor in Chief,” if I recall accurately, I may be overstating slightly. But certainly you were a big part of that tremendous growth, where you worked with advisors in the field, as well as clients. So talk about that a little bit. That was a pretty incredible story of what you and Kathy did together.
Steve Gresham: Yeah, I appreciate that. I mean, that was also that was a wild ride. So again, the setting and the context is important. So I had left Phoenix at the spin off of Virtus. And George Aylward and Frank Waltman and that team have done, as you know, have done just a fantastic job with Virtus since then, but time for me to do something else anyway. And here is Fidelity calling at an appropriate time. But keep in mind, this is 2008, the fall of 2008 when I arrived on the scene, so you know, the smoke is still coming out of the financial crisis. And you walk in the door. And on the very, almost the very first day, we talked about, are we going to stay in the money market fund business. Wow. What do we do tomorrow? So the scale of the place was incredible. And so I initially, I spent the first few months working on the products and making some prioritization and some adjustments. And Kathy joined a few months after me in January of ’09, and we were officing nearby each other and basically, in a conversation not unlike the one we’re having here, she started asking about my real interest, which she knew to be the high net worth business, the wealth management business to clients, and essentially made me an offer to say, “Hey, if you could kind of guide this strategy, that would be terrific.” And I said, “Well, what’s the job description?” And she said, “Well, it’s a new role. And it’s really two things. One is that you advocate for what our best clients would want. And at the same time, you make it easier for our advisors to connect with them.” She said, “That’s kind of it but by the way,” and you’d have to know her personality. She’s quite a driver. Her follow on to that was “And if we have to tell you anything more about those two things, then you’re not the right guy for the job.” And that was it. No four box HR diagram with key performance indicators and a bunch of other stuff. It was go, let it rip. And for basically seven and a half years in what I would conservatively calculate at nearly $2 billion of investment, we ripped it up. But it was, it was everything. You know, it was how to segment the clients for the first time because most firms to this day really don’t do that, we had to do that. Because of the scale. We had millions of clients and you can’t treat them all the same. Some of them deserve a lot more attention than others. But now as we know, segmenting the client service models is so critical. So that was probably the most important thing, is understanding a do it yourselfer layer, which we were very much capable of doing because of our technology and our web presence. And then you want to be able to have access to an advisor. That’s an awful lot of what the industry is more broadly today. But then you get this top level which we never had, which was a true advice offering called Fidelity Private Wealth. And you know, a shout out to my colleague, Kevin Ruth, for the work that he did there. And we bought eMoney, mostly Mike Durbin’s business, the platform business, but we turned that retail business into the largest division of Fidelity. So today it is, as you said, nearly $4 trillion. And it’s a juggernaut. It’s amazing. But the thing we had to do was to incorporate digital solutions alongside of the humans, and in effect, at Fidelity because of the scale, digital had to lead. Just because of the size of the clientele that we had and the consistency that we needed, they needed access, simplicity, and that allowed us also then to drive the cost down of delivery. So that was really my first experience with the convergence, you know, something you talk about all the time, Jack, the convergence of human and digital capabilities. It was really something. It was… wasn’t easy. Was not, was not easy. But it was an outstanding run.
Jack Sharry: So let’s talk about what you’re doing now. Because it’s really an outgrowth of what you did at Fidelity. You, the numbers speak for themselves. Going from one trillion to nearly four and, and having a hand in really the strategy around that. And the execution, in terms of that confluence or convergence of human and digital advice. Of course, the industry was moving in that direction, slow, but sure. Still struggling, I think you’d agree, still struggling to try to figure out how that plays out. And I know you’ve got a bunch of things you’re working on now. NextChapter, and the Execution Project, and some work you’re doing with ALI. So, why don’t you talk a little bit about what you’re doing now and where you’re leading our industry next. Where… what’s next for Steve and for our industry?
Steve Gresham: So I jumped off of this train, this Fidelity train back at the end of 2017, because I saw this next chapter on the way. So you and I were there at the beginning when we’re transitioning financial product salespeople and stockbrokers, to being the purveyors and managers of managed assets. And so that freedom allowed them to connect better with clients. And it really created the basics for, or the basis for the first wealth management offerings, because the professionally managed assets being delegated allowed the advisors to spend more time with the clients. So your added value, they were trying to say at the time we were supporting it, was let the managers do that, you focus on the clients. And the best of the advisors did just that. So this next wave, though, ironically, powered by the exact same demographic, now shifts the industry student body right, because the clients have now reached an age where the accumulation phase is pretty much over. And so there’s a big inflection point that has arrived here in 2021, where the baby boom generation, which has really powered most all of the modern economy, the modern markets, and most all of these companies, including Fidelity and Vanguard, Schwab and others. All of that shift changes when you hit 65. And of course, you know, pre-retirees and all that, it’s a little soft around the edges. But the median baby boomer today is 65. And that inflection point shifts the entire industry into a focus for not just trying to help people accumulate for this sort of fuzzy far off goal of retirement, but now it’s right in your face. Now, what are you going to do? And how are you going to help that client and their family get through their retirement? And that means being able to line up against their number one concern, which is how to afford their health care? Their number two concern, which is to make sure they don’t outlive their money. And how can we give them straight answers about those questions, because that is a very, very different thing than saying, “Well, we’re going to do our best to get you to that retirement age, a combination of your savings and our investing. And we’re going to do our best.” I want to repeat that because doing your best when someone’s got had a finite amount of money and a finite timeline, doing your best is not good enough. And so I wanted to get all over that. Now I’ve spent three years, doing all kinds of things to prepare, but I think I finally got it right. And it does sound like a lot of activities. But basically, it comes down to something that’s quite simple. So my consulting firm, the execution project has two clients, companies and advisors. We’re trying to help the advisors prepare for this shift. And we’re trying to help the companies better support the advisors. So it’s mostly tools and training provided through both to be able to help these these advisors and companies meet the needs of this retiring age wave of clients. So and we can talk about next chapter and where the alliance comes in and all that.
Jack Sharry: Why don’t we get into that? So the Execution Project is essentially a consultancy that works with advisors and their firms to help advisors do a better job for clients, basically.
Steve Gresham: Yes.
Jack Sharry: And NextChapter, because I’m on your advisory board there. NextChapter is a group of people like us, people from around the industry, asset managers, wealth managers, RIAs, insurance companies, etc, fintechs, we’re all trying to figure ways that we can help the advisor do a better job, the client get a better outcome, the firm and advisor get better outcomes as well, financially. So talk a little bit about the NextChapter and the work that’s being done there. It’s… I’m really fascinated by what we’re doing. But you’ve spearheaded the effort, talk a little bit about who, who are the members, so to speak. MMI, FA magazine, and so on. So tell us more about that?
Steve Gresham: Sure. So the Execution Project is the consulting firm. The company effort is called NextChapter. And The New Advisor for Life, you know, is my handle for how to help advisors with the shift that they have in their careers. So it’s a practice management basis. So it’s ideal as a chassis to work going forward in this big transition from advisors that help you invest to advisors that help you survive retirement. So the NextChapter effort, I said, you know, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to get the industry working with us, because nobody has a monopoly on the good ideas. And so we’ve been very fortunate to be able to draw 40 senior leaders from around, as you said, Jack, around the industry. Different product companies and advisory firms, and it’s a really, really solid blend. There’s some great personalities in there that have terrific accomplishments, and trying to test them to say, well, what is it that we’re going to need, because at its heart, it’s a leadership program, because it’s helping to capture some of the ideas that some of these terrific leaders have, and then apply their insights to pain points, I would say in the industry, that prevent clients and advisors from being able to work together again, on this very challenging timeframe of being in retirement. So the NextChapter was, it was a no brainer to get the support from Financial Advisor magazine, you know, Gary Holland, the CEO, Evan Simonoff, the editor in chief, David Smith, one of the founders. I mean, I’ve known these guys as you have for, frankly, I think, since they started the publication, and so they were fast to sign up immediately. And then, you know, the idea naturally germinated on the side of the companies. When we were talking with Craig Pfeiffer, from the CEO of the Money Management Institute, Jack, where you’ve been a force for years, but then also because of the insurance and annuity companies that Craig was connecting, with your help, to that side of the industry, because they’re instrumental in making this work for the clients in retirement. So the MMI, well, with its 174 member firms, and Financial Advisor magazine, with its footprint of almost 150,000 advisors, a natural couple of partners for us with the Execution Project, to say that’s our company effort. We’re broken down into six study groups at this stage includes topics like: financial wellness, how to better incorporate retirement income products, how to centralize the support of the advisor with client service and other capabilities, the integration and adoption of digital tools, it’s all the key stuff that you would expect. But it’s all critical to work together in support of this transition of the advisor and the client, into the client’s retirement. So that’s been the fun part. The New Advisor for Life is a natural complement, because we’re working with the advisors there in the advisory firms. They actually work as a demand poll to help focus and sharpen the stuff that we do. One of the interesting things we’ve been able to do is to get a couple of those advisors into our study groups, and they call BS on anything, as you know, that begins to slide off the reservation. And my buddy, Marybeth Emson of Morgan Stanley, has been one of the best so shout out to her.
Jack Sharry: Yeah. Let me, if I could, echo that comment. Marybeth has been a key contributor. I’ve been on many of these… you also call these groups “sandboxes,” so I’ve been on many calls, we’re looking at ideas. And Marybeth, who’s a top advisor at at Morgan Stanley, weighs in with reality every time and always useful to know the real deal. You know, one of the things I know you know, these numbers, but just tripped across these recently that because of COVID, in 2020, four times as many people retired in 2020 as 2019. And I think you shared this statistic with me that came out from McKinsey, that money in motion is up 350%. So to your earlier point about people… that, that median age being 65, people are now moving toward “Okay, so now what do we do?” And one of the things that we do… I do in my day job, I know you do in yours, and it’s coming together around NextChapter, and that is that, how do you pull all this stuff together? Because it’s complicated. When you’ve got multiple accounts and products and custodians and advisors, which is the reality. It’s not, I know advisors say otherwise. But that’s what’s… what the numbers tell us. Because everything is so spread out, you really need to coordinate it, you really need to make it come together, you really need to make it make sense. So a lot of the interesting stuff, and maybe we can talk a little bit more about this, about where the group is headed around issues of scoring around financial wellness around, really, what’s the next best action, because it’s so complex to figure out all this stuff. How do I put my household portfolio together in such a way that I draw down? And as you’ve heard me say, countless times cost, risk, and tax smart? How do I draw down where I’m saving on cost, saving on tax, and saving on risk? And, mindful… I know you’ve done a lot of work around this as well. How do I do it considering health issues as well? Because that’s fundamental to the health of not only one’s portfolio, but certainly, their longevity. So maybe comment on that, and what you’re doing both with the NextChapter and the Execution Project?
Steve Gresham: Yeah. So you know, it’s an interesting thing. You know, we talk a lot about the complexity of the industry, but at the same time to quote a couple of CEOs that I know, and I have a pleasure of interacting with a lot of these folks on a regular basis. At the same time, they would say, we’ve created this complexity. So you know, the annuity industry is a kind of the leading edge of the opportunity to be able to make things simpler for clients. Because when you describe the benefits of the product, and without getting into the complexities of the nuances of the products, if you explain what the benefits of an annuity are, and you explain those to the clients, and you don’t use the word annuity, they are all over it, they think it’s a fantastic idea–where can I get more of that? And then when you look at how the industry delivers, it’s made much, much more complicated. There’s lots of paper work. Now, a lot of that’s become digital, but still, you know, it’s a very, very difficult kind of a solution to employ, relative to the amount of incredible demand that is probably, you know, several step functions above where it was just a few years ago, again, because of this demographic. So but these basic questions that people ask are the ones that are… the industry is having the hardest time answering. So, what will I be able to keep? To your point, Jack, before, and something you’ve been a champion about for, you know, a dozen years or more now, which is “What do I get to keep?” is going to be terrifically dependent upon the after tax benefits of that rollover from the retirement plan, or how much I take out of the IRA. I mean, to this day, there are still people that look at their IRA balances or their 401k, and say, “Wow, I’ve saved a million dollars for retirement.” And then when you take the tax out of all of that, and they say, “Uh oh, what just happened?” And it starts to come into focus, but we don’t focus on that. And so, you know, the two issues that continue to confuse me, why we can’t get a better handle on it that we are spending more time about in NextChapter and have been part of the work that certainly that you have done in LifeYield along the way, is giving people straight answers about “What do I get to keep?” Now the other side of that, that I think is complimentary, primarily because of my longtime interest in the demography and, and aging in general. You know, my grandfather was a college president and then became a gerontologist when he retired. I spent a lot of time over the years, being from an academic and medical family, focusing on aging. And now one of the first questions you hear when someone is retiring, they want to know, “Well, where am I? How do I stand? You know, what’s my level of preparation for this? How am I doing? What can I do now?” And they have no idea to be able to set in stone where they can start. So we don’t really give them a straight answer about how they’re doing until now. You know, and so I’ve been very interested in trying to create a parallel to what you’ve done with tax efficient scoring of the client’s preparation, ability, and solution, been trying to put financial wellness scoring in place for the client’s level of preparation around estate planning, financial literacy, financial decision making, the level of risk they may face, their healthcare decisions and costs. They need to know where they stand before they can plan. And I think that’s one of the things that the industry is drawing into focus.
Jack Sharry: Yeah, before we wrap up, I’m going to add another thing that you and I… it’s come out of our conversations. And I’m really pleased you’re our guest here on this podcast, because we have the benefit of these conversations on a regular basis. And one of the ideas we kind of cooked up together, I’m not sure who started it or if… ended it, but we, I think we both landed on the fact that if we’re going to pick two things that advisors are focused on, because investors are focused on in light of the fact that there’s a quadrupling of the number of people retiring is, when should I take Social Security? And what do I do with my rollover? So one of the things I’m seeing in all sorts of statistics since is those are the starting points. And then what you’re doing with NextChapter, with the Execution Project, what you do with the ALI, which we haven’t gotten to… All looking at how do we help people age, and do so with health and wealth in place? So maybe just a quick comment before we wrap up, just that notion of a starting point, because I continue to believe that complexity is sort of the enemy of our being more effective at this. So it’s all about simplicity, which leads us to scoring, which leads us to next best action, because you can’t create the next best action unless you prioritize the possible ways to go. And that’s still in an early and emerging stage. But talk a little bit of where you’d like to see NextChapter and Execution Project go in terms of, of the next best actions for our industry.
Steve Gresham: Yeah, so if you bring this triangle into focus, so the Execution Project, kind of being the enabling wrapper over all of it. And then NextChapter being for companies, New Advisor for Life for advisors, the idea is to be able to have that be a dialogue, keep that as a circular function, so that the information flow is going back and forth. You know, the advisors are, right now, they’re doing most of the work. They’re having to integrate, sometimes, systems and concepts that don’t necessarily talk to each other. But they’re the ones that talk to the client. So they’re interpreting for the client how to best solve this issue that the client has. And they are stepping around a whole bunch of stuff that we have thrown in their way. Some of it’s regulatory and well intended, some of it is operational. And frankly, we’re just lazy about a lot of that. There’s kind of an another angle to all this, which is that we’re having these conversations at a time when we’re closing in on the 12 year anniversary of the most incredible bull market in history. Now, you know, my experience and yours, Jack, along the way, is that bull markets get an awful lot of the power going for the clients. And there is a tendency for both the advisors and the clients to fall asleep a little bit around this issue of let’s be vigilant about where we go. So you know, there’s a lot of good memory in the heads of these clients for the damage done in the tech wreck in 2000. And then again in the financial crisis 2007-2009. And that’s not easily forgotten. So there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of concern about where we should go. The markets have been ripping ahead, but the clients have been slowing down. So we see them taking money out, we see them thinking about alternatives, and we need to turn that around. But if they don’t know where they stand, they cannot plan for anything better. So giving very solid answers to somewhat amorphous, but critical questions is part of our job–help them understand exactly where they are, and what’s realistic for them to be able to do from there.
Jack Sharry: Gotcha. So two questions as we wrap up. What are the three takeaways from our conversation today? Or from the work you’re doing? Whaw… what would you share with our audience as three key lessons or three key things to be aware of and work on?
Steve Gresham: You know, I’m tempted to say, especially if you’re younger, take notes, because as I reprise some of this history with you, you know, it’s a long time. So anyway, but it does kind of pass in a flash if you are focused forward. That’s what’s always helped me. So I think, you know, the three things for me is first and foremost, demography is real. You know, you can’t fight the Fed, you can’t fight the aging. It’s just… it’s here. It’s not going away. That median age of 65 for the baby boomers also means that the biggest generation in history in the United States is also at a lead edge of 75. So, you know, that’s a very, very different business, and it’s a game changer. It says more service. It says focus on the things that people need. And it is a very differently centered business from the perspective of having the empathy and emotional intelligence to fully engage these people, or they will be gone. You mentioned the money in motion. It’s only accelerating. Clients are being an awful lot more focused on what this advisor is doing for them. So don’t ignore the demography, that’s critical. Second thing is actually an extension, which is the clients rule. Stop trying to convince the clients that a robo doesn’t work for them, or zero costs, beta, or commissions are a bad thing, try to find ways to coexist with the reality because there are innovators that are surrounding these clients that are telling them what they want to hear. And they’re learning what customer service really looks like when they look at other industries, not financial services. So the most important objective for financial services companies over the course of this next 10 to 15 years of this retiring age wave is to simplify, simplify, simplify and get straight answers to the client’s questions. And then the third thing is just from… for the corporate members who are listening here, what we’re learning in NextChapter, is that your success is terrific. And that’s all it is. It’s your historic success. So, you know, most companies don’t really have a commitment to innovation. They talk about it, but that’s not what gets anything done. So what we found at Fidelity, and what I’ve found in every place I’ve ever been, especially in working with big companies–find some way to create an innovation, a skunkworks. Like what we’re doing in NextChapter. This is what we’re good at, which is coming up with an idea, but then ring fencing it, sometimes hiding it somewhere in the, you know, the basement of the company, and let those people just kind of rethink what we’re doing. And go for it. Because that’s the only way that actual innovation that is customer-centric and advisor-supportive is going to be able to get to where it needs to be. But if you don’t do that, if you’re not starting something like that, now, it’s going to be hard to catch up.
Jack Sharry: One last question. I think I know the answer. What would surprise people about you when you’re not in your day job, but for fun? What do you do for fun that people might find surprising?
Steve Gresham: Well, if you think about everything we’ve talked about, almost everything is building, building, building and… and you’re trying to make something new, something work better. And over the years, I’ve gravitated to being able to do that with a little bit more definition. So my… kind of my side hustle is being able to build cool woodworking at scale projects using salvaged and reclaimed wood. I live in a, as you know, a terrific place on the shoreline of Connecticut where there’s a lot of mature hardwood forest and the storms have been devastating. And there’s lots of reasons stuff comes down. And so we actually are vertically integrated. So we harvest all that which is kind of the fun part and then build stuff out of it, which is really neat.
Jack Sharry: So if people want to check you out on Facebook, where would they go?
Steve Gresham: They would go to Walden Hill Woodworks. And Walden Hill Woodworks on Facebook, and sometimes on Instagram, and it’s fun.
Jack Sharry: And if they wanted to know more about the Execution Project, where would they go?
Steve Gresham: theexecutionproject.com
Jack Sharry: Great. Steve this has been great, as always. Look forward to our next conversation. This has been a blast, and thanks so much.
Steve Gresham: All right, Jack. Good to see you again.
Jack Sharry: Take care.