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wealthtech on deck podcast - John Thiel, John Connors, and Rich Aneser

The Legends of WealthTech with John Thiel, John Connors, and Rich Aneser

The wealth management industry has changed tremendously over the last 20 years, and it’s difficult to remember that what we now consider the norm developed over time. Merrill Lynch’s shift towards goal-based wealth management transformed the industry and moved beyond a narrow focus on ROI. This new approach better-served clients by prioritizing their actual goals such as supporting family members, buying homes, or securing a comfortable retirement. The firm gained a substantial edge in an industry characterized by uniformity.

The people behind this approach are three wealthtech legends: John Thiel, Executive Advisor and Board Director and former Head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Rich Aneser, Chief Strategy Officer at Envestnet, and John Connors, CEO and Co-Founder of Boathouse. The three discuss their tactics to shift advisors’ perspectives in an industry averse to change.

In this episode, the three guests talk with Jack about how Total Merrill got started, how they successfully shifted advisors’ perspectives, and the challenges of building a business in the wealth management space.

What John, Rich and John have to say

Read the full transcript

Jack Sharry: Welcome all to this very special edition of well tech on deck, we began to record a new series of unique podcasts we’re calling the legends of WealthTech. This is our second legends recording. Our first was with Lori Hardwick, Cheryl Nash. Noreen Beaman. In celebration of Women’s History Month, these three leaders were among the first women to achieve CEO titles in our industry, their podcast has become quickly one of our most popular shows. And as anyone who listens to our podcast knows, we talk about the confluence of human and digital advice from all angles, with a real focus on disruptions, strategy, and creative paths that advance our industry. We also like to add a little historical context and perspective to help our listeners understand how and why things have evolved over time. Today, we will have a conversation with some folks who conceive the and built a truly game changing approach to rendering financial advice. It was called Total Merrill, and it came to the marketplace in the early 2000s. And changed our industry does business forever. Of course, many people were involved in developing and executing this program and strategy. Today, we have three principal contributors to total Merrill, they will describe how the program came about what it was and the results that were achieved from what turned into a 15-year run. To tell the story I’ve invited John Thiel was head of Merrill’s Advisors as the program evolved, Rich Aneser, who is now head of strategy at invest net, and who spearheaded the packaging and marketing of the program at the time, along with many others. And John Connors, who was the CEO of boathouse group, which was the digital agency that worked closely with rich and John and many others at Merrill to develop the program. So John, Rich and John, welcome to WealthTech on Deck. Thank you, Joe. Thank you. Glad to be here. John Thiel, why don’t you set the scene of how the idea of total males started, like every brilliant idea, and I’m sure it has many mothers and fathers. I believe this all started with James Gorman, who was in a senior role at Merrill. At the time, please describe this his big idea. And I know there were many others. And also tell us about what it was like to do business before total Merrill, and then what the program did to change how advisors provide advice.

John Thiel: Sure, so I’m going to take a little step back, this is something this sort of comprehensive approach to wealth management, which really tried to address all aspects of client’s financial lives, you know, even in the 80s, including real estate, which had begun then and fits and starts and never really got adopted, it wasn’t, you know, culturally acceptable, the industry hadn’t evolved enough for advisors to stop and take time to think about banking and lending of all things or mortgages or any of that you want to be a banker. So through fits and starts, we had tried to broaden the capability set, you know, based on client need and our ability to deliver that. And over time, we built those capabilities, including owning, you know, two banks, which was really important to us is to have to own the cash flow. If we’re going to do financial planning, and we don’t have the cash flow, it’s really hard to really understand if clients are on track or not. And so Lonnie Stephens was an architect of all that. And as he exited the company, in 2000, James Gorman, was coming in first, ironically, as he was the McKinsey partner who covered Merrill Lynch, and came up with our segmentation strategy and some of these literal strategies that he recommended. He ended up coming as our chief marketing officer, and then a couple of years later ended up being the President of the wealth management business. So he got to implement his own advice, if you will, which was fun to watch. And the bottom line was, what were we trying to do, we were trying to, from a shareholder and company perspective, diversify our revenue, from an advisor perspective, really make this ability to deliver across the balance sheet, a seamless, integrated approach that was efficient, that wouldn’t take too much time, especially for those who were afraid of doing things like having a loan turned down and things like that. And then, you know, for the client, we could meet all their capabilities in one spot and do it again, in a mostly integrated way. So it’s easier and then give them buying power, right, so that we could negotiate better terms for them, depending on how you know how strong the relationship was across those capabilities set. And so we began trying to do that. And as you can imagine, change in our business is not something that is welcomed, always, and it’s slow to for adoption. And we had, you know, 12,000 financial advisors who all felt their value proposition was probably a little bit different than what we were proposing. And so we went at it in all different ways. We ran our typical contests and and did this and that and we tried incentives and the incentives work, but it didn’t work for the people who really didn’t need the incentive or didn’t care. About the incentive. And you know, we didn’t really have a history, our marketing really was focused around the strength of our brand and safety and soundness of the organization. We didn’t ever really have any marketing to support the business strategy, if you will. And I think what James and this team rich and John did was we finally had a business strategy that we knew would work. So for instance, banking made an enormous impact, because we now finally had net interest margin, we had deposits in a bank, we lent that money out, we kept, you know, we can keep the spread like a bank does, because everything else was money markets before and you got your 90 basis points so and had a real impact. But what they decided to do and on the team was was Paula Pulido, at the time running marketing, James was now running the business is that they really wanted to build something that was that was consumable, most importantly by the client that was in plain language, and that would support the strategy and they would invest heavily in it. And that idea came out to look like something it’s called total, Merrill. So again, think about it is you’ve got these capabilities, you’ve got client need. And you’ve got, you know, the advisor who needed to see the same value set that everybody else said saw and the confluence of all these with that marketing support, gave it the push, yep, over so that clients could begin to ask, Hey, what’s total Merrill?

Jack Sharry: So Rich, you were there at the dawning of this wonderful program. And for those that may not be familiar with what it was like way back when, probably that it was a transactional business, sell, sell, sell individual products, funds. It was the emergence early days of separately managed accounts in the advisory space fee base. So basically, Rich, you and Paul and John, John Connors were handed the challenge of raising more money, getting deeper penetration, all that stuff. So what do you guys do about it? No one was welcoming this new idea. I’m quite sure as you get started, right.

Rich Aneser: I think it’s great. You know, how many years later John, I remembered exactly as you just said it, right. So that’s a good thing. And the challenge we had was, how do you package this all up? Right, we had two components. I remember John, John and John, we’d sit there and we have CMA. We’ve got banking, all the points that John feel just made. And you had a, you know, kind of a a great group of financial advisors, though, but what they had been trained and where they were operating off those more brokerage model. And as John pointed out, so there were incentives to kind of move them along, and those who bought about financial wellness, well, before it was framed as financial wellness, were leaned into it, but how did you get the rest of the advisory force to kind of get behind this? And it is interesting to think about, you know, it was really now the business strategy. We move beyond and I was fortunate enough to be at Merrill, and we were doing great commercials. And we’re just kind of talking about as like we had you know, the bowling we did these commercials, they were really powerful. And Paulo is was really thoughtful and challenged John and I had to use the bullets this icon differently. And we added smashing the glass at one time, got to articulate a business strategy of helping boomers get to retirement and change the dynamic. We were kidding. You know, we had the live bull at national sales meeting, what a kick that got from, you know, folks seeing live bill, but really was how do you then package up all these things that we weren’t getting credit for? We regretted getting credit from everything John talked about from our clients, from our advisors, or from the street. So it really became an important packaging exercise. And John Connors and I would know more than John Thiel, there was a whole bunch of work done, and really interesting and fun work done to package it. And I always remember there was one John Connors, it ended up being total narrow, but we tested a lot of ideas like Merrill Lynch mosaic, right? Because it was all these pieces of your financial life was gonna be really important to thread those things together. And so that really became package this business strategy and use marketing as a much more powerful tool. And then it was proven to the advisors. So I remember being kind of one of the earlier uses of data to John Thiel, we were looking at it advisors books instead, if you did, you know, one or two or three or more buckets of total merit, we were making the correlation on revenue, client retention, client loyalty, and we really had it was some really great folks. Bill Kreger. Stuart Altschuler are some wonderful names. I remember who were running these models. And so it became a tool to help articulate to the advisors look at this business strategy makes this kind of sense the way we’re packaging it up. And I think we did a really cool kind of neat way of packaging it, that’s just one part of the marketing, and then giving them the proof points of what this was going to do for their business and how they could deliver that better degree of advice and move beyond brokerage was just a really interesting way to kind of package all the pieces together. And Rich, if you’d comment, I’ll say it bluntly. The wealth management business is not known for its marketing. In fact, you might be the first firm I’m aware of that actually did marketing is certainly had the brand thing go with the ball and so forth. really spectacular ads for those were around at the time, you’ll remember, but talk about that, because that was a pretty significant in aspect to the store, you really deployed marketing in a meaningful way.

John Thiel: Yeah, I think we did a great partner like John and great business partners, you had Foley, Andy Saperstein. John, anything great in this world is never done by just like a small little cadre it’s done by a good cadre, you know, a bigger cadre. And so I think that things that some of the interesting stuff we did, again, from a marketing perspective, segmenting the advisors, segmenting the types of clients using data in a different way. That was the first my exposure to really using data in an interesting way, which is really what marketing is about versus branding. And then, you know, there was a couple of very interesting tools. And we had this tool called Market Merrill Lynch Advisor, I think it went to a million magazine, when that went to a million Merrill Lynch clients. And we kind of used it, it was a way to go over the top of some of those advisors who may not be telling the story to their clients. So we were touching a million advisors. And we were telling all of these total miracle stories, and there was a great group of people, I would say, from a marketing perspective, it was one of the earliest really, I think, innovative and powerful uses of content marketing, we really told the total miracle stories, and you had people who are engaged in banking and small business lending and all these different ways it was affecting their life, we’re able to get that out to the end client, and they were bringing it back into the advisors and the advisors, we’re seeing this benefit. And then they all kind of John, you know, the advisors that were very competitive and watch what each other was doing. And all of a sudden you see a story, you know, your fellow FA helping a client in a way that you’re not helping your clients. And they will I want to get in the magazine, I want to start doing things like that. So it’s a tactic, but it was a strategy of using content, marketing, and data in different ways.

Jack Sharry: Actually, a side note, I’m a Merrill Lynch client. And I remember receiving that that content you just described, like, oh, wow, that’s pretty cool. For our listeners, that stuff didn’t happen back then. This is that was a whole new, that was a brave new world. So Mr. Connors, you are the master of the narrative. And imagine you were called in to help us sort out this narrative that became Total Merrill. And one of the things I appreciate about your narrative abilities is most of its true. Just kidding, my friend anyway.

Rich Aneser: So that was an important qualifier.

Jack Sharry: Talk a little bit about you came in yet and I’m assuming he told me a little bit about it, but share some more, if you would. You came in to kind of pull together to help work with the people like John Thie,l Riley Etheridge, who I’m sure will talk about at some point, many others. John Hogarty, on the business side. Paul Polito who I think at the time was Rich’s boss, who had played a vital role in all this. So your job was to come up with the ideas that turned in to Total Merrill. So talk about that. How did that all come about?

John Connors: Yeah. So I think, you know, to your point, and to Rich’s point about team, that was a clear strategy, right. And we had sort of come up with this visual icon to sort of visually represent it because we needed to create artifacts to that narrative point so that people could start to see and understand it was more than a line. We created a line that was your money works harder when it works together. So that there was a benefit related to Total Merrill. And then John and Rich have both talked about it, but the bull had been on ice for 20 years. And so the bull in the china shop had been you know, that there was an early 70 spot. And we brought the bull back, and it started with a casting call for the bull because there was no the full 20 years ago had become beef jerky. And so we ran a casting call and seeing a casting call for bulls is unlike a casting call for anything else. There was a firm there was a cowboy, this Robin from turtle Ranch, no lie. The Bulls name was dollar from the get go.

Rich Aneser: Wyoming, Wyoming, right.

John Thiel: And here, I’m running my firm at the time, we were about 15 people, we had sort of scored this Merrill Lynch opportunity and it was massive. And at the sales meeting that rich and John referenced, we were bringing dollar out on stage in front of all these high-power Wall Street, you know, investment types, and John Connors was insuring the bull at Merrill Lynch at the biggest conference with all their salespeople. I was pinned to CNBC trying to figure out whether the company was over before it started, because if it gored John James Gorman, I was a dead man right from the get go. But then it was a home run. We brought the bull back, partly to John’s point to energize the Salesforce to energize the advisors, right, because, as you know, Merrill’s advisors were known as the thundering herd. And they were just, they, they had a commonality between the clients, the clients had a certain mindset. They were bold, the advisors were bold, and the bowl kind of captured that and it was just a really good team a really clear strategy and it was a fun one to execute.

John Connors: We Jack is we brought the bull, we brought the bull back and we did some really interesting and it was fun stuff and we were at a shoot-out in California.

Rich Aneser: And I think at writing and shooting the bull.

John Connors: You have two good stories about that were to be a real good story if I take a little sidebar on the bull. So one was that so we were out at this, you know the photo shoot, filming shoot of it. And so it was right after Christmas. So my family came with me and they were hanging around California a little bit stuff. My son was three or four years old and so I brought him in I had him kind of go up and pet the bull. And you know, the trainers were there. Because I’ve been a bull does what a bull does. And he quickly moved his head like that, and I pulled my recoil. My wife was less than pleased with that one. But John Connors, do you remember we had a director who wanted to get the POV of the bull, and he strapped a camera on top of the bull’s head. And this bull it dollar, it had him so this would be a great shot, we’ll have it you know, panoramic and then we’ll have a view of it from the bulls point of view with the camera on its head. This dollar started charging, just running, going as fast as he could. You’re seeing pieces that camera and it’s a big $100,000 camera. He’s just flying off and the bull knows to go straight into the trailer. Like if there was a white line. He does as I’m watching it, and there’s pieces the camera flying off. He goes into the trailer and shears the top of the camera off and just gone right this camera is gone. I turned to John and Bob standing next to me. I said I’m glad that was the director’s idea, not ours.

Jack Sharry: It was something else. That’s good. So John Thiel, a name we’ve mentioned a few times and I know he was vital to the strategy, I believe it was his strategy was James Gorman. Of course, now he is the Chairman CEO of Morgan Stanley. We’ll talk a little bit more about that later. Because as I’ll make the case of the see what my colleagues whether they agree or not, the total Merrill strategy ultimately gets played out at Morgan Stanley, but more about that later. But you want to talk a little bit about Gorman’s bright idea, it was a bright one, for sure. And then assume at some point you wind up in your lap to go make sure the advisors embrace this idea. And knowing advisors as I do, having tried a few of these sorts of things over time, nothing is grand as what you guys did. advisors don’t always want to go along whatever the home office has to say. So what do you talk about Gorman and how they kicked off, and then how you had to then make sure that the advisors thought it was a good idea along with you.

John Thiel: Yeah, so these ideas actually came to us when he was our McKinsey partner. I mean, these are ideas that were not brand new. These were things that you know, he had talked to Lonnie Stephens and Dave Komansky, Dan Tolley about, for years, you know, segmentation strategy, the notion of measuring revenue, versus production credits of revenue being everything the firm receives versus that commission, or that fee that we get on Investment Management. And, you know, advisors are compensated on the production credit, not the revenue, but an awareness for these advisors to understand that they were contributing more than just their production credits. Now, that’s a double-edged sword, right? Because then they want to get paid more. But you know, the evolved, we put little things in the round rewards around their revenue, but it was to sort of coalesce everybody around this notion that one primarily, it was what the clients wanted and needed to it was, it helped retention of clients, and it helped, you know, the clients become stronger, more loyal, do more business with us. It was absolutely important for the firm to expand that strategy. But what James did is he pulled all those things together, and then for the first time ever, took marketing dollars, significant marketing dollars, and put it against the strategy. The thing that I think he did that was the most unique is that he invested significantly in the idea and understand that there was no detail too small. On the statements, we polished change the statements. So the total Merrill icon was now on the CMA statement. So CMA took a backseat which CMA was named the most innovative financial product in the 1919 76 by Forbes, right. So we had this iconic thing, and we replaced it with total Merrill. And it just went through every communication, everything and became the fabric of how we talked about what we do with clients over that time. So to me, his genius, if you will, his contribution was taking his own advice and others experiences. And when he got his hands on the steering wheel, he invested on an all aspects with all stakeholders, all constituents to make sure that it happened that he held his leadership team accountable. And then we tried, obviously, to compel the advisors to do that. And there were all sorts of things right. There was an incentive compensation line, there were things there was recognition that was the magazine where people you know, fought to get, you know, their client, their story in the magazine, but we talked about that bowl and we laugh about it. But you know, Merrill Lynch had have very unique culture, and that bowl was iconic. The last time it actually came out was in 1987, after the crash. So after the crash in 87, was the last time the bull was featured. And having been sitting there knowing that it was going to happen, but still unable to suppress the emotion almost like tears of joy, that we’re back. Dammit. We’re back. And that’s how everybody in that room felt like now we’ve taken control. And James, James, you know, he did the investment, he did it, he put his neck out to do that, along with incredible talent like Paul on rich and John and everybody else that was involved to make that happen.

Jack Sharry: You know, just recalling all that because I tend to be a student of all this stuff. What was fascinating is I remember the book came back, and I’m a client, you know, less than I’m a client, just an observer and like to see people do smart stuff. I’m like, wow, that is so smart. It’s just, it represents. For those who may not know, the CMA account that John referenced that started retail investing, as we know it today, that was late 70s. It was b 80%, I think was the interest rate and money market account, you couldn’t get that money poured out of banks into Merrill Lynch that everybody copied fidelity Vanguard, the rest, everybody copied all this money went into money market accounts, and then that was the fuel that led the mutual fund growth in the 80s and became a multi trillion dollar business, which it wasn’t before that, starting with a CMA account. That was the sort of presence and place that Jack has it.

John Thiel: Can I just add one thing? Oh, yeah, sure that Don Regan was the CEO or Treasury secretary. And there’s a video we have, and he shares a story when he had his leadership team go off and study it. They all came back and their recommendation was a unanimous No. And Don Regan said, Well, do I get a vote? And they’re like, looking around going, Yeah, you’re the chairman. He goes, good. I vote yes. So we’re doing it. So go do it.

Jack Sharry: Brilliant. As that was taking place, as they were, that Unleashed all the money out of banks, literally into brokerage firms. The whole industry was beneficiary in mutual funds is where they wound up and that went on through the 80s. Now we’re fast forwarding here to James Gorman, watching the industry become a very transactional, mutual fund oriented business manage money was starting to come out. That was in the late 80s, early 90s. It started to gain some traction, but even there was pre select. But by the time Gorman looked around, he said, You know, it’s we get as a business and his responsibility as the president, his responsibility is bottom line in terms of stock price and all the rest. It’s not on commissions, which was a big driver at Merrill, that time, as you well know, John, and it happened to be on revenue, which is what the firm is about that shift. He brought him along. Right. Do you want to comment on that how that shift occurred and how revenue played an important role in getting the advisors to see it was in their best interest their clients best interest to shift from just selling stuff to getting paid fees on what they had?

John Thiel: Yeah. And there was real competitive pressure. Let me buddies forget from 82 to 2000, the S&P returned 12% On average return every year as you doubled your money every six years and Vanguard, John Bogle was out there offering stuff for 20 basis points, and it was performing at 12% a year so why would I pay front end load a back end load any kind of why do I want friction, they were being educated and digitization happened right with the NASDAQ, and fractionalize. And so there was tons of cost pressure on the investment management in the brokerage business. So it was really an education campaign. And it was really the idea of as Rich said, we had this banking component, and we had this investment balance sheet components. So there was two out of three you had to have, we created an account called Beyond banking, which was CMA with more bank like capability. So free wire transfers, things like that, right? Credit cards, and then we had a credit card we created we had the Visa Signature, which was unbelievable till dissolute folks all knew back then all new, all new. And then we had the Metro plus card, right, which was an actual credit card, the Visa Signature was a delayed debit card with rewards. And then we had financial planning. So that was one thing. And then this other bucket was fee based investment management, because we were trying to get it was credit. So it can be mortgage can be securities based lending, eventually structured product is we built that structured lending capability out, it was trust. So we had a Trust Company, Merrill’s Trust Company, that was the fifth largest Trust Company that no one knew about in the country, by the way, we are the fourth largest bank at the time, we got with beyond bank, and we became the fourth largest bank as measured by deposits, and then insurance, right, so risk management, right to, to enter that. So those were the capabilities. And we created this, we created a compensation mechanism for that as you could penetrate, we use data so we could show every client they had across those seven characteristics and whether you had the client had availed themselves of this opportunity, and then built incentives and you know, we had recognition trips and things like that, that was sort of the usual playbook, as well as educating them on what it meant from a revenue impact what that activity helped. And then we we had indirect benefits for their revenue growth, right. So they got more CA support as an example if they So the revenue was a certain sales assistant. I’m sorry. Yes. Yep. So those were some of the tactics and they worked.

Jack Sharry: So Rich, and John, you got Gorman with this crazy strategy, which is brilliant, really nothing crazy about it just new and different. And no one thought of, you got guys like Thiel and others and his team, making an app and you guys had to make sure that the folks out in the field, were willing to embrace this stuff. How do you guys do it? Would that look like?

Rich Aneser: I’ll start John, and then go, I think in John made the point before and we’ve been kind of talking about is it goes to a fundamental that sometimes gets skipped. Right, we had a very clear business strategy. And as John pointed out, Gorman did a great job of making sure we all understood that, and Paula and Andy, and so we all kind of had that. And then it was okay. How do you package this thing up, as we talked about? And then how do you get it out into the field, and he’s just started had the use of digital. So it’s hard to understand now that Oh, you don’t have API’s, and you know, all the social media methodologies in search engine optimization, we didn’t have any of that stuff. But we’re beginning on the path to using digital communication channels to get it out into the world as well. And so I think you go back to that, getting it, it was simple. In retrospect, it was, but it was hard to execute. We had data that said, that was a real value to advisors. And why go to a revenue view, and why understand your clients, if I’m doing great with my clients, I’m making good money, and I’m trading stocks and bonds from, well, you’ll do this much better, and your clients will stay that much longer. And these other good things will happen. We have proof of it right? It wasn’t, you know, now, you know, your data scientists who turn this stuff out, you know, we have things like that we were where I currently am. But that was new, right. And that was really important way to get people to buy into it. And then you combine that John with what you were doing from all the fields, incentives, and then you were marketing directly to financial advisors, John could talk more to a lot of our marketing was as much to the client as it was to the advisor. And we were using those two components together. And I think it was an interesting way for us to think about it, we were really clear about it, it’s sometimes we will do what we’re doing our advertising on TV, and that’s to get people but that was to get advisors and clients and engage in a line on the same story. Not brilliant, as you look at it now, but probably different than what most people were doing at that it was groundbreaking.

Jack Sharry: Yeah, aligned to the brilliant, and I think it was brilliant, but it was groundbreaking. No one was, again, for our audience, especially younger listeners, this stuff didn’t exist, you know, this kind of smart strategy, deployed through smart marketing deployed through smart sales management. Yeah, I didn’t see it anywhere else. I don’t recall it happening anywhere else.

Rich Aneser: You give this collective team, there’s three of us representing kind of three different angles on it. But as we’ve all talked about, it’s made a comment like, we were all aligned to it, it got momentum, and it got power, because Gorman did a good job. And John did a good job and call it a good job. And I didn’t done I’ve kind of gone over to you mentioned a bunch of names. I couldn’t remember everybody who were you know, in the moment, but we were all aligned to it. And that’s just, you know, a really important part of the story, how we all got behind a smart business strategy. But John, I’ll leave you with the one piece. And Jack, you and I have talked about this before. But I want to reiterate like John and Paula believed in the advisors 110%.

Jack Sharry: Right. And I think you see a lot of leaders today that treat the advisors, as second rate, secondary importance don’t matter. They think they’re smarter than the advisors. And they think they’re more important than advisors. And I think so it started with respect, like, because if you don’t respect the advisor, as an important layer, you’re going to lose. So I think that was one, at the same time that John has comments about how they were investing more in marketing overall, they were at the same time cutting the ad budget a little bit, right. So because they were buying books, and buying advisors and investing in the statements and all the marketing, capital M. But Rich will remember, like the budget, the ad budget was actually going down. And so we were in the pure smoke and mirrors business. You know, the game. And you know, John’s lived it, we’ve talked about it Rich, and I’ve talked about it. At a certain point, you can only send so many emails and letters to advisors. And they believe you anymore, right. And so at a certain point, the people they’re most concerned about is the client that’s going to walk in their office and say and ask for something. And if they’re not prepared, and they look unprepared or not smart when the client walks in. So part of our strategy that Rich was alluding to before, was by being on Sunday golf. We didn’t have money to be everywhere, but we knew the advisors were watching Sunday golf. And by being there. When they saw Total Merrill, they believe their clients were going to walk in and ask for it. And so we were going outside in to just reinforce and so it was with a bowl. It was with Total Merrill. It was on Sunday golf, and coupled with all the pieces that John and Rich talked about, and that pure belief and the importance of the advice or I think with the amortizing way of executing,

Rich Aneser: I’m gonna have one other component too, because I think it was talked about a little bit, it was innovative, but it required some really smart marketing people on the team and John’s team, we created a tremendous amount of leverage in, in the way we created the content stories. So a lot of times you’d say, alright, you know, in those days, John, you want a big advertising budgets, and you want to go out and talk to the big directors out in California. And it’s Ridley Scott will do this brand campaign, he had all that kind of stuff. We started in John’s team to his credit, and John Von Brachel. And Bob Mirrlees, and Shanta Vani. Remember, all those folks, what we were doing is saying like, alright, let’s not do that. Let’s have handheld, Bob Merrilees was kind of taken handheld cameras, and we go write a story for advisor magazine film it, John scene would help clean up and that was, so we were producing television commercials for a fraction. And we’re able to use it in digital channels, we were using it in print, we were using it on television, and we really got a lot of leverage. And if you think in today’s world, that would be that greater, we were kind of in this little quasi crater economy way before, approach way before we would even know what that is. But it was a really important part of it. I probably thought about it as leverage at the time, because we’re like, Hey, this is the budget got cut a little bit. But we were able to create a tremendous amount of really powerful stories of people experiencing Total Merrill and clients benefiting from Total Merrill, in a way that, you know, if we had done big television commercials would we’ve done one, and that would have been if we had a library of 50 things for the cost of doing what.

Jack Sharry: John Connors, I remember you telling me this, we’ve chatted about this before. I can’t remember the exact content piece. But it was basically it was kind of everything you needed to know about Total Merrill. And so because I didn’t know the Sunday golf piece that was brilliant. They had actually read it right? Isn’t that part of the story, but talk a little bit about what how you use that as a way to kind of give him a primer on what they need to know,

John Connors: Rich was talking about the content strategy, and we created that visual. And it was an exploded out visual with all the products and services related to all the layers have Total Merrill. And what ended up happening is it ended up on a lot of bulletin boards, because a lot of times collateral will just stay in the closet, right. But it ended up riches. We got a visual here for the podcast, but we came to demonstrate.

Rich Aneser: Anymore, but I still have this because it was a way to kind of represent the financial wellness industry too.

John Connors: Exactly, so it was great. One of the artifacts.

Jack Sharry: Yeah, very smart. So gentlemen, I could go on forever on this, I love this stuff. But we’re gonna throw this up as something for each of you to consider. There’s a lot to be proud of here, you really did change the industry, if you haven’t picked up on it, you really just the shift from transaction to fees, the shift from again, transaction to planning the shift from just one side of the balance sheet to the other side, the liability side, which was done before all sorts of new and different things. And then frankly, the complexity of integrating it all terms of the client relationship and dealing with all that kind of stuff. So my question out to the three of you would love to have you take turns kicking around is, when you think back on total marrow, what are you most proud of in terms of what you all accomplished until you want to want to kick it off?

John Thiel: Yeah. And one of the things I’m remiss, and there were other people, right, Bob Mulholland, Dan Sontag, who are leading the whole organization that none of this would have happened, we were in here, we got the hall pass to go make this happen. And so I just wouldn’t want to go without saying people like that there’s so many people that contribute to this. So it’s not the three of us and and Paul, it was so many more people, I just think it was, it was the first time where I was truly, truly proud of what we represented for clients that we were actually demonstrating that we were putting their potential needs first, and that we were recognizing and building and investing in the capabilities that would align with their financial lives and their priorities. And ultimately, you know, achieve outcomes for them. And that, listen, successful retirement is a balance sheet exercise, it is not an investment, account balance exercise, you need all parts of it. And so we we actually built the implementation roadmap for financial planning, and that I’m so proud of that. And then it just got better and better with capabilities and technology and all the things that have come since. That’s great.

Jack Sharry: Okay, Rich.

Rich Aneser: Yeah, you know, it’s similar. I mean, we change the trajectory of advice and the advisor in the industry, helping millions of more people end up in a better place, right. And that shift would probably come we accelerated it, we found a way to make it simple for people to understand. We made it simpler to implement in you know, being able to solve more problems for a client you have all those kinds of great language around and financial wellness. There’s other ways we can frame it. Now Total Merrill was a precursor to were the first step and really it’s that simple. We change the way advice gets delivered and the trajectory of Nice.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. That’s great. How about you John Connors?

John Connors: Now the I’m gonna keep the drumbeat going here on the same pattern. It’s, I think it was the integrity of it. And I think, you know, Charlie Merrill had the line, the clients interest must come first. And I think a lot of times in the financial services and in a lot of industries now, that interest gets lost in return from margin and shareholder value of all the layers there. And I think for some reason, there was this point in time, when all the stars were aligned, when integrity really mattered from the leadership on the call now to the advisors through the clients through the product innovation, and it was incredible to be a part of,

Jack Sharry: That’s great. John Thiel, when you were talking earlier, about the bull, and all that sort of kind of welled up with a sense of pride. I just remembered that experience. Back then it was something was not affiliated with the organization. I was a client. But you know, I wasn’t in it. Like you guys were in the many others that you’ve talked about. It was visceral, you could feel it. You know, it’s kind of like, it’s hard to describe. It’s one of those rare things you don’t see very often, frankly, around financial services. And I think John Connors, you just hit the nail on the head. Me too Rich and John Thiel comment on along the same lines is just the integrity, it’s the right thing to do. It’s, you know, everybody wins. It’s all good.

John Thiel: So and just one thing, just to ratify that, if you wonder about the feeling, go look at every firm and see how many executives have Merrill Lynch on their resume that are now leading all the firms? Yeah, it permeated and spread across the street. I mean, it was It wasn’t just a feeling it was talent and a feeling.

John Connors: Yeah, one follow up on that we got requests for the music for all different purposes. But one family member called and asked for it for their funeral, or the role of an advisor who wanted the Total Merrill music and it’s still on the visa call when you when you’re on hold on the Visa card, they still play the music.

Jack Sharry: That is wild. So you actually have delivered me to where I wanted to go. So as many of you know, I’m a huge fan of Morgan Stanley and James Gorman and all that they’re doing there presently. And I find it fascinating and not at all surprising that James and Andy Saperstein was his right hand at Merrill, as I recall, they basically took all that they learned at Merrill and all that they did at Maryland, they took it across the street to Morgan Stanley, and they’re the industry leader right now for said arguable that they’re the leader and doing many of the same things, but frankly, taking it to the next level. So maybe, gentlemen, if you would just weigh in on your observation of what Gorman has done, what he did at Merrill and how that is translated to the worthy competitor called Morgan Stanley.

John Thiel: Well, he evolved and learned because I remember very early meeting when he said, we need the advisor to this, he said, so just go tell him, and we all looked around. And like, that’s not how it works. You can’t tell them, they’re free agents. So what he’s done now, and you know, a lot of this, by the way, was his recommendations to us as his in his consultant role. And I think what he did is he learned how to do it at Merrill Lynch. And then he took those learnings and left the biases behind and went out and built like his acquisition of E trade and Solium. It’s just the greatest way to capture money in motion, you institutionalize that asset flow, by the way, provide a very important service to those participants, whether it be retirement or the equity plan business, and give them an easy way to deliver an outcome. So I think what he’s done is he’s learned he knew what to do. He learned how to do it, and then he’s taken it and he’s perfecting it. And he’s investing in the wealth management business in a way that it’s hard to see. Anybody else come close.

Jack Sharry: And one of the things I would just add to that, John, I know you believe this to be true as well. he surrounded himself with smart people, just like you did at Merrill. Rich, what are your observations about that?

Rich Aneser: Agreement, Morgan Stanley doing a fantastic job. Got to slightly put a little commercial in here though, because I know this little company out in Berwyn, PA, that does a lot of the things that helps support that delivery of more holistic advices little group called investment seems to be have a real good refer to putting their stuff together. Morgan Stanley is the client Merrill Lynch is a client independent RIAS broker dealers. But you know, Merrill Lynch is the starting point when I met Bill Kreger and ended up becoming the Chief Strategy Officer here. We had our first conversation and I said, I saw where his vision was, and he wanted to go far with what we have does that mean that’s what we were doing a total miracle. We didn’t have the API’s. We don’t have the data that you have the other leading financial planning software, we’ve got it with money guide. We’ve got more data aggregation through the only, you know, API’s that plug in all the CRM systems we have the broadest set of solutions from credit and investments in insurance and trust and hell no. So it’s a little bit of a commercial. I think what James did then John all the way back was kind of, you know, he was framing out what this thing could look like. We have up started at total Maryland you have companies like us and invest that really proud to power this whole part of our clients. So I think Jamie has done a great job. And if that was the first thread of bringing this to light, you’re seeing it now being impacted. Again, this goes back to my view of being we change the nature of advice, my greatest joy coming to work every day, what I do is, I’m still on this path and try to help more and more advisors solve more and more needs in a really integrated intelligent way.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. John Connors, what do you think?

John Connors: I don’t hold a candle to John and Rich in terms of knowledge of James Gorman, strategy. I, you know, I think the results speak for themselves. I think the only piece I always wish and you know, this jack, we’ve talked about it is that they put the advisors out a little more in front, I think there’s always that sort of McKinsey instinct to put the brains out in front. And I think there’s more. But James Gorman does not need to hear from John Connors, what he thinks about how to run the business. But I think they could Harold, the advisors a little bit more the way John and Paul and Rich did, because I think it builds a culture that’s even stronger.

Jack Sharry: Yeah, yeah, I happen to agree with you. John, do looks like you have a comment there.

John Thiel: No, I couldn’t agree more. I mean, that is the asset of this organ. These organizations, it’s the people that right down the elevator and, and delivering, you know, working now in the asset management industry as a director, you know, even when I’ve gotten up them to change the world that retail like that is got such a negative connotation. And I’m like, I would put our best advisors up against any of your any institutional person as it relates to acumen and expertise, and all the others. So these are very smart and capable people, their paychecks, you know, sort of represent how talent they are. And so I agree with you, John, they are the value proposition. And we got to make sure we keep them, you know, in the right, light.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. So, John, Rich, and John, thanks for a great conversation. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this, this, I have to say, This is my favorite podcast we’ve done as yet, because it’s a wonderful topic with some wonderful folks. So as we like to wrap up, I’d like to ask each of you, normally, we ask our guests to have three takeaways. I’m gonna ask one each from each of you. What’s the key takeaway? I’d like to share with our audience? John, do you want to go first and then Rich? And then John?

John Thiel: Well, I, you know, from an industry perspective, enrich said, we’re not done. We need everybody to think about these client outcomes this way. I mean, people really want to do something with their money, you know, their performance is important, but it’s only in context of what they’re trying to accomplish. And so we really do have to continue to use the leverage of technology capabilities, software, smart, intelligent, withdrawal, software, things like that, that can, you know, trust, the tax drag and other components like that better understand risk, especially as things evolve. So I, I just think aspirationally, there’s a lot more to do. And you know, I personally, am excited about helping anybody think about that.

Jack Sharry: Gotcha. Rich, totally agree with John, I’ll take it a different direction to not be repetitive, just embrace and remember. And sometimes you’re right in it, these wonderful, extraordinary moments in your career. When you’re with a group of people. John called it integrity. And we had so many people. I was trying to remember Gail and not remember Gail Gross, John Ellenberg. People still at Merrill. I mean, like, it was a tremendous all the people we’ve mentioned in some we’ve forgotten. But wow, when you look back on it, what great times we had, we innovated, we did some really cool stuff. And you can only be a part of something really extraordinary when you’re with a extraordinary group of people working towards the same end, and it never gets done alone. And so as you’ve got to think about this conversation, it’s bringing back all those hard times, long nights, whatever you want to throw in there, but really fun and lifelong friends.

John Thiel: Great. And the stock was $97 a share did prove the point.

Jack Sharry: And always makes you feel better. John Connors.

John Connors: Yeah. And I think the there’s a lot of incrementalism in today’s world, right. And a lot of people play it conservative and safe. And I think the boldness that Merrill team exhibited, to put the client’s interest first, make a big move, to try and change the game. Just think there’s not as many to have been there be a part of it. There’s not that many opportunities to change the game anymore.

Jack Sharry: That’s great. Thank you, John Thiel, Rich Aneser, John Connors. Thanks for taking this very important trip down memory lane of the great work you and your colleagues did and changing our industry for the better for our audience. If you’ve enjoyed our podcast, please rate review, subscribe and share what we’re doing here at WealthTech on Deck. We’re available wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again to John and John and Rich. It’s been a real pleasure. Really, really.

Rich Aneser: Thank you, Jack.