You’re not going to reach the top of this profession without having a competitive streak in you. And when you channel that competitiveness into “winning” for your clients and “winning” in the growth of your business, that’s a dynamite combo.
Today’s guest, Michael Bapis, is a competitor who played golf for the University of Utah, then collegiate-level basketball while studying abroad in Greece for two years. After finishing school, he moved to Phoenix and ran Jim Flick's Golf School at Desert Mountain. Once he decided to follow his father into finance, Michael kept learning and achieving at a very high level, first at Morgan Stanley, then at HighTower. In 2018, he opened Vios Advisors under the umbrella of Rockefeller Capital Management, working with high-net worth individuals, pro athletes, and entertainers.
We connected in person at the 2019 SALT Conference and discussed a wide range of topics including two key lessons he learned from his early mentor Jim Flick. These lessons became foundational cornerstones for how he built his advisory firm to more than $1 billion in AUM.
To read the two big lessons Michael learned from golf great Jim Flick to build Vios Advisors, register below.
Much like today’s competitive advisory market, there are plenty of top-flight golf schools for players who are willing to pay premium prices to work with the best instructors. But Michael learned that what set Jim Flick apart wasn’t just his mastery of the game or the effectiveness of his teaching methods.
“Whatever customers needed, you're their concierge,” Michael remembers. “Jim’s differentiator is service, and obviously that's carried with me to this point in my career. There's a lot of people that have a lot of sophisticated investments. We think part of our unique value add is the service model we provide.”
One of the luxuries that comes with running your own firm is determining exactly what you want that service model to look like. Michael was the first wirehouse advisor to join HighTower, and in those early days he saw how a “boutique” firm can intrigue a select group of clients and prospects with its independence and flexibility.
Michael describes the service model at Vios as “definitely total wealth management. We look for boutique investment managers who aren't on everyone's platform, who add something unique to the experience of being with us. We have personal relationships with all the portfolio managers. We're like-minded in our boutique-unique feel. That's where we can add value and something unique and something different than everybody else is offering.”
Vios offers specialized service to two different client groups. First is the traditional high-net-worth client who wants to grow and preserve wealth. Vios will manage all or part of that client’s portfolio, and they’ll also work with “New Gen” family members or heirs who have a high earning potential.
“We're not going to hit home runs,” Michael says. “We don't take a lot of risk. But we also really differentiate in down markets, and in generational planning. We want to be with these families for multi-generations.”
Michael runs the other side of Vios’ business, the Sports Entertainment Division. As an NFL-registered advisor operating under the fiduciary standard, he places a big emphasis on educating athletes on how to manage significant wealth and lifestyle challenges at every phase of their careers.
“We create a matrix,” Michael explains. “We call it the ‘Arc of a Professional's Career.’ In the beginning, it's more of a conservative model where we just try to preserve money. And then as they make their money the arc goes a little bit higher. Now they have more discretionary income to do different things with, to invest with. On the backside, we do financial planning, estate planning, all of that, as they’re on the downswing of their peak earnings.”
Most pro athletes retire before age 40, and Michael says that the most crucial component of this Arc is helping them answer the question, “What’s your next life?” That’s a question all financial advisors need to get more comfortable asking. You may not have retiring quarterbacks in your client pool. But any successful, high-net-worth individual is going to have a lot of his or her identity wrapped up in the career they’re about to leave behind. Helping clients figure out how they want to spend their time in retirement only leads to more money issues that they’ll need you to help sort out.
“It's also aligned with, ‘What are we doing with your money to prepare you for that?’” Michael says. “‘Are we putting some money aside to start your next business? Are we putting it aside for education, if you have children?’ Often both spouses work. We try to involve both spouses so that they're both educated on what's going to happen next in each one of their careers. It could be totally separate, but what are they going to do at the same time upon retirement?”
Of course, a well-designed service model is only as good as your follow-through. During his Jim Flick Golf School days, Michael learned that when you’re marketing high-end service at a premium price, you have to be prepared to go above and beyond for customers, whenever your phone rings.
“There were times when Jim would call me and say, ‘We've got to get to the range. We need to meet someone at the range," Michael remembers. “And it would be one of the bigger golfers that he was teaching at that point. He would work with him, and we would just provide the service to that golfer at the time needed.”
Put yourself in your client’s spikes for a second. He loses his job out of the blue. She inherits a windfall. Their kid gets into an Ivy League school. Market volatility rattles their nest egg. A major storm damages their home. Are you at the top of their call list, ready to spring into action and provide the service they need?
Getting on your client’s speed-dial is a two-part process.
First, you need the infrastructure to get your clients whatever information they need, whenever they need it. Tech is part of that equation, but so is giving your client easy access to the best people.
“You have to have that team structure,” Michael says. “Originally, it was sole practitioners, but now the business has evolved into the team structure with an analyst, with head of operations, service people, younger advisors. We have a marketing director. It's a whole company within a company. It's all centralized. You'll call us, and we will make the determination of who you should talk to.”
The second part is trickier. But if you really want to be that first call when your client’s money and life bump into each other, you have to create a real, genuine connection on a human level.
“Creating a connection with someone, that's easier said than done,” Michael says. “But, what do you have in common? What interests do they have that you have? Creating some sort of a bond that is unique to that relationship. That's part of the beauty of our business, figuring that out. But also, being real with people. Clients read it right away if you're real or not, and I think there's a trust factor that ultimately comes within the first 30 to 60 seconds of meeting someone. Just being a good person, being someone that they can relate to, and finding something in common.”
It’s here that your competitive spirit and your humanness can work hand in hand. Gathering stories and building trust might not, initially, light up your big board. But improving your skill at these interactions is going to lead to more referrals, more clients, and a bigger, more fulfilling business.
That’s what winning is going to mean for successful advisors going forward. Anyone who doesn’t adapt better get used to losing.
- Vios Advisors Visit Michael Bapis and his team online.
- "The Partnership: The Making of Goldman Sachs" by Charles D. Ellis Michael Bapis says this book taught him, "No matter what your role is, you're always there to serve the clients and meet with the clients."
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