The BMR Group of Merrill Lynch: Treating Clients Like Family
It's not unusual for the partners at The BMR Group of Merrill Lynch to host a movie night, a book club meeting or educational seminar for their clients in Palm Beach County. “We host a variety of activities to help our clients with the issues they face in their lives, not just money management,” says Diane Bain, senior vice president-wealth management. “We recently had an Apple product expert bring in the latest products, and we’ve hosted a speaker on identity theft, along with a mobile shredding truck to help our clients do some ‘spring cleaning’ of their documents.”
|Nickey Rand, Paul Abbott, Ellen Cajal, Richard Fischer, |
Diane Bain and Scott Mazur
Through the years, The BMR Group has built a loyal clientele of affluent clients, primarily in northern Palm Beach County. “Our wealth management business has grown largely by word of mouth, and we get a steady stream of referrals from clients and their professional advisors,” says Scott Mazur, senior vice president-wealth management.
Based in Palm Beach Gardens, The BMR Group of Merrill Lynch is led by three partners — Bain, Mazur and James Rooney, senior vice president-wealth management — who have been together for more than 15 years.
“Jim Rooney and I formed the team in 1994,” says Bain. “At that time, we were one of the pioneers in terms of financial advisory teams. Mazur joined the group in 1998. Another early partner was Beverly McGahee, who was part of the Merrill Lynch group from 1995 until she retired in 2000.
Today, The BMR Group includes Richard Fischer, analyst and business manager, who has been with Merrill Lynch for 33 years — four years longer than Bain. The BMR Group includes Paul Abbott, Ellen Cajal Nickey Rand, and an intern Sydney Cajal.
“We work with a client’s attorneys, CPAs or other professionals”, Mazur says, “that, and having a large team is a significant benefit to clients. No one person is a specialist in everything,” he says. “This way our group can respond quickly to the changing needs of our clients”.
Collectively, The BMR Group members have more than 100 years of financial industry experience at Merrill Lynch, which is the largest brokerage in the world, with more than 13,500 financial advisors and more than $2 trillion in client assets. Bain adds, “It’s very rare for a group of professionals to have such extensive experience and familiarity with one company.”
Getting off to a Good Start
In general, The BMR Group’s clients include business owners, executives, professionals and retirees from around the country, as well as the Palm Beach County area. “We work with many families — mom, dad, kids and grandparents — on multigenerational wealth issues,” Mazur says.
Some of those clients date back twenty years to the group’s founding. “When you become a client, we become part of the extended family,” says Bain. “It gives us a lot of joy to be invited to a wedding or the birth of a grandchild. But there’s also sadness when a client goes into hospice or passes away. We’re present in person or in spirit for all the different events of life.”
With each new wealth management engagement, Bain and Mazur place an emphasis on getting the relationship off to a good start. As part of the initial planning process, Bain and Mazur will ask each spouse or other principal family member to complete an individual form that includes their personal goals and tolerance for investment risks. “We have them do the forms separately so that we can identify any differences between the views of the husband and wife,” she says. “Sometimes the most important financial issues are not discussed until they come into our office.”
Bain adds that The BMR Group members also facilitate far-ranging client discussions that cover topics like anticipated major expenses, legacy planning and providing long-term financial support for family members with special needs. “We continue to stay in close touch with our clients as their goals and situations change with time,” she says.
One of the most important considerations in preparing a wealth management strategy is determining the client’s willingness to tolerate sudden downturns in the financial markets. “It’s very important to spend that time talking about that issue early in the relationship, because when the markets become volatile, emotions come into play,” Bain says. “There is no better gauge of a client’s risk tolerance than the volatility of the market. You can put your responses down on paper, but until you ride out the market cycle, you really don’t know for sure.”
Having a financial plan in place before those downturns occur can help clients stay focused on the long term and make better investment decisions, says Mazur. Another key for making it through stressful times is understanding and managing a client’s cash flow requirements. A client who doesn’t have to sell stocks, bonds or other assets at a low point in the market cycle is less likely to be swept away by the short-term turbulence, he says.
Whether the markets are going up or down, The BMR Group partners keep in regular contact with their clients, talking about current trends, challenges and opportunities. During the devastating Wall Street crash of 2008, Bain made it a point to call as many of her clients as possible on a daily basis. “As I was speaking to one client, her husband picked up the phone and told me he was impressed with how frequently we had stayed in touch with her,” she says. “He told me that he had not heard from his advisor once during the downturn. That was not uncommon at that time, probably because many people don’t like to be the bearers of bad news.”
Along with managing risks and seeking a positive return on their investments, The BMR Group clients are concerned with other issues like maintaining a lifelong stream of income and managing ever-growing healthcare costs. “No one wants to be a burden on their children,” Bain says. “At the same time, they don’t want to see their investment portfolios eroded by the need for residential care.”
Estate planning is another theme for many clients. Mazur met recently with a man in his 80s who wanted to restructure his portfolio to convey his assets from one generation to another. “You would think that as people get older, they would become more conservative, but that’s not always the case,” he adds. “Sometimes the parents are more aggressive than their children.”
In any case, The BMR Group members also seek to educate clients’ children and grandchildren about being financially responsible. “Merrill Lynch offers a series of financial boot camps and we make sure our clients are aware of them,” Bain says. “We are also active supporters of Junior Achievement, which teaches young people about the principles and practices of successful businesses.”
Summing up the team’s approach, Bain says, “We help clients set clear objectives and implement strategies that are flexible enough to adapt to the changes that occur in everyone’s life.”