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Bill McNabb and Jason Wenk talk growth strategies and guiding principles for advisors

"The most important principle for me, besides integrity in all things, is it's not my money, it's their money."

—Bill McNabb 

Starting from scratch as an advisor can be arduous. Finding clients can be tough, of course, but harder still can be holding on to those first few clients and making them happy as their goals, priorities, and financial situations evolve.

Former Vanguard CEO Bill McNabb and Altruist founder and CEO Jason Wenk know a bit about the early career pitfalls that can face advisors as they’re starting their professional journey. Both worked their way up the ladder in the financial industry from the bottom rung: Bill started at Vanguard in 1986 before rising to become the company’s CEO in 2008 and chairman in 2010, while Jason began his career at 20 as one of Morgan Stanley’s youngest employees. Over the decades, both of them have accumulated a wealth of knowledge and wisdom on the financial industry and that shared experience is why this episode of The Human Advisor is so powerful.  

While a generation separates Bill and Jason, they both had similar values instilled in them from a young age: Dream big and work hard. Those twin philosophies still inform their work today and provide the foundation for their advice to new advisors. “Be ready for hard work,” Bill says candidly, before adding that taking care of existing clients is a paramount priority for any ambitious advisor. 

Part of that work is embracing a constant state of learning, even when it seems like other, more apparent things should take precedence. “There’s a lot of emphasis for advisors… to focus on that aspect of growth that they don’t take the time to become masterful in their craft,” says Jason. He sees that inversion of priorities as a crucial shortcoming for a lot of young advisors and says that those just starting out need to have expertise in “changing their client’s lives for the better” in addition to an instinct for growing their business. 

That set of goals can be complex and difficult to manage, which is why Bill embraces being a lifelong student. “One of the great things about this business is that you have to know a lot about a lot of things,” he says. “I still feel like I’m learning things every single day.” He suggests engaging with a broad set of perspectives on what’s happening in different industries so that investment strategies don’t get stuck in echo chambers.   

Beyond educating yourself, though, Bill and Jason know one of the central pillars of being a great advisor is being a great person. “Doing the right thing is a great business strategy,” Bill says, mentioning that the focus on integrity is something that they taught during orientation at Vanguard. 

For Jason, that philosophy of doing what’s right is inscribed into his skin; he has the word “courageous” tattooed on his left forearm. “Doing the right thing takes courage,” he says. “Sometimes it’s hard or means you have to work long hours, but doing the right thing is a huge payoff.” Courage can also mean thinking about who you can serve best, which is why Jason wants emerging advisors to focus on who they’re serving. Focusing on goals and ideals early on a professional journey can create a magnetism for advisors and lay the foundation for growth later on.

Growth can also take time, which is why both Jason and Bill want advisors to focus on what’s in front of them when they’re starting out. “If you only have a handful of clients to start with, work like crazy to make them happy,” says Jason, before Bill echoes him a few moments later saying, “For anyone who is in that early part of their career, there’s no better way to grow your business than taking great care and showing an incredible amount of gratitude to your clients.”   

Starting out as an advisor comes with its challenges, but lessons like these from Jason and Bill can go a long way in making that professional journey a smooth one.  

The Road to One Hundred Million

About The Human Advisor

Everyone has a story about what money means to them. When someone sits down in your office, it’s so much more than doing business. Your client comes to you with some of their core beliefs about success, identity, legacy, and relationship.

The Human Advisor Podcast is dedicated to changing the conversation from how big a financial advisor’s book of business is to how well they take care of their clients and actually help people. There’s a new breed of modern advisors who want to make a difference and do something meaningful. And in our series, we’re telling their stories. 



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