With booming housing market, CT financial advisors see significant demand

Tony Champion’s move from Hong Kong to Stamford last year brought a lot of changes. Finding a new financial advisor has turned out to be one of the easiest.

Becoming a client of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management has reduced much of the hassle of moving to the United States, for the 49-year-old Canadian who works at Central National Gottesman, a paper and pulp trader, headquartered in Purchase, NY.

Champion represents one of many new Connecticut residents who have sought financial advice over the past 16 months, with digital platforms helping businesses connect with new and existing customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wealth management professionals predict further growth, with the state’s booming real estate market generating much of the recent demand for their services.

“It’s been a really smooth transition from Hong Kong,” said Champion, who has lived in Hong Kong for 15 years due to his work with Central National. “And I’m really excited to continue working with the Merrill Lynch team.”

Forge new relationships

The addition of Champion contributed to a net gain of 400 “households” for Merrill Lynch in the Stamford market in 2020. Merrill Lynch, who is part of Bank of America, is not disclosing his total number of customers. But he said the Stamford area’s growth last year outpaced the increase in its customer base by four times in 2017 and exceeded the increase in 2016 by 10 times.

Merrill Lynch manages a total of approximately $ 34 billion in customer balances in the Stamford market.

“Fifteen months ago, we moved all of our workforce home in about a week. Fortunately, we were able to operate fairly seamlessly without any major technology issues or issues, ”said Nikolas Totaro, Director of Merrill Lynch and Head of Stamford Market. “Clients recognize the ability to work seamlessly with advisors, whether they are sitting in the office or at home. “

Champion’s financial advisor at Merrill Lynch is Darien-based senior resident director Dan Anderson, whom he met last November. Champion said their relationship was strengthened by similarities such as being a father and their proximity in age.

Having previously settled savings for higher education for her children aged 21, 18 and 14, Champion said her interactions with Anderson have mainly focused on retirement funds and the resulting “wealth accumulation”. .

“It was important to find someone who was in a similar situation to the one I find myself in and who could relate to my goals and objectives,” said Champion.

Other financial advisory groups have also seen significant demand over the past year.

“Although the way we meet clients has changed, our philosophy has not changed. We have embraced our virtual capabilities and found a new capability to provide services to new and existing clients from June 2020 to the present, ”said Charles B. Carroll Jr., senior vice president of wealth strategy and trust services for First County Advisors, the wealth management division of First County Bank, headquartered in Stamford. “The primary reason for the demand for our services is rooted in our culture of ‘trusted advisor’ here at First County Advisors. We offer a tailor-made program that begins and ends with each client’s financial goal in mind.

Demand is also supporting job growth. There were 15,181 “investment advisor agents” in Connecticut in 2020, up 2% from 2019 and 17% from 2016, according to data from the State Department of Banks.

“I was able to navigate the process of building the business without too much friction,” said Brian Moss, resident of Darien, a 30-year Wall Street veteran who launched the management company last year. Soaring Capital heritage. “It’s a trusted business, and we were so used to seeing people and interacting with customers and prospects in a physical way. But everyone has gotten used to having virtual coffee. I can make a virtual café with five people versus two in person a day. In many ways, it is much more effective.

Towards more growth

The strong demand for financial advice in Connecticut is unlikely to dissipate soon, as the state’s booming single-family housing market drives much of the activity. Nearly 4,250 Connecticut homes and condos sold in May, a 22% year-over-year increase, according to Berkshire Hathaway Home Services.

“Just because you’re approved for a $ 1 million mortgage doesn’t mean you should automatically take out a $ 1 million mortgage,” Totaro said. “We manage financial plans with different scenarios to assess the likelihood that clients will still achieve their goals. For many people, it gives them the peace of mind of knowing that they can buy a home while achieving their other financial goals.

Many real estate brokers have said they welcome clients working with financial advisors.

“With interest rates so low right now, it can be financially advantageous to take out a mortgage and invest the money,” said Tammy Felenstein, Fairfield Strategic Growth and Sales Manager for William Raveis Real Estate and President-elect of the Connecticut Association of Realtors. “Real estate is interconnected with many other financial aspects, not just financial advice, but also accounting and tax planning. We always want our clients to be fully informed to make sound financial decisions, but our advice is only about real estate. It is important to seek out trusted advisors in each area.

Champion said he and Anderson had agreed that Champion should first get a Hong Kong bank to handle the mortgage on his house in North Stamford, but that “I wouldn’t be surprised if we added mortgage services. to our existing client-advisor relationship “.

At the same time, the demand for wealth management services reflects the wealth of the state. In 2020, Connecticut’s per capita “personal income” ranked first among the states, at $ 79,771, according to the Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

But financial advisers have said they don’t just work with the rich.

“We are looking at all the opportunities to be inclusive when considering a new customer relationship. We’re not focusing on one age or income level, but on the whole family ecosystem, ”Carroll said. “We are an independent, mutual community organization, which allows us to work with current and future family generations. We are holistic in our approach and determined to understand how we can add value to a relationship.

Merrill Lynch’s Totaro offered a similar perspective.

“We’ve created a way for everyone to be a Bank of America Merrill Lynch customer,” Totaro said. “We work with the entire wealth spectrum. We have the ultra-rich, but we have a lot of newbie clients. We have the unique ability, through the platform that this company has put in place over the past 12 years, to serve any individual based on their financial need. “

[email protected]; twitter: @paulschott

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