Some wealth management executives can say they know what it feels like to be a financial advisor, having started their careers in that place. But how many can claim that they also know what it feels like to be a client too?

Mary Mack is both president of Wells Fargo Advisors and a client.  In an exclusive interview with On Wall Street, Mack talks about what it’s like being a Wells Fargo client, the direction of her firm and the changing landscape for advisors.

This interview is part of our special report on the state of wealth management.


What’s next for the advisor going forward?

What I’m talking a lot about with advisors now is the changing landscape. Think about how you and I do everything differently in our lives now. How do you get medical advice; how do get advice on buying a new car? I don’t think it’s different with our clients. We have a high percentage of clients who are collaborators. They like to gather information and sit down with a financial advisor and review it within the context of their own personalized plan.

So the investments that we’re beginning to make are around the connections we create between financial advisors and their clients.

How do we think about the digital space differently? How do we enable you that when you finally get a chance, after getting those two kids to bed, to think about your financial picture and how that changes? I want you to be able to go online and access your personalized plan, and then chat with your advisor, because he or she is going to make sense of a lot of complex data in the context of your personal situation. I’m a big believer in the fact that clients need and want customized, personalized advice, but they want to be able to access it in a way that’s convenient to them. 

Accessibility is one thing, but good communication is another. Is it still possible to create that one-to-one experience within the new mediums?

Yes, absolutely, because I think the real winners in the digital space will be those who create not a unique digital experience, but what we’ve begun calling an omni-channel experience. Clients aren’t looking for a substitute; they’re looking for an additive way to interact with Wells Fargo. So we’ve focused a lot on functionality in our digital experience. This next generation of investors is looking for an emotional experience. So how do we create a different experience online? How do we create an emotional experience? I think that very much involves the advisor and the one-to-one relationship.

What’s the experience you have with Wells Fargo when you go in as a client, and not as president of Wells Fargo Advisors?

I become a regular client at least once a quarter, because I owe it to my family and because I think it really is important to experience exactly what you are talking about from the seat of the client. I have a financial advisor who has done a tremendous job advising us, and I do remind her when I go in that I need to be her regular client who needs the same advice as any of her other clients.

Our process centers on Envision. A vast majority of our affluent clients have a written, active investment plan with us, as do I. And so that conversation starts out with a reconfirmation of, Is this still what we are working toward? Are these your goals and dreams?

I want my financial advisor to understand what it is I’m trying to achieve, and help me achieve it; think about the things I haven’t thought about; challenge me a little bit. I need someone who’s going to help me think hard about the choices I might make on spending, or saving and investing, and give me courage to do it when market volatility might make me a little worried.

I think the role of that financial advisor is like a financial coach. A lot of our financial advisor training programs are focused on just that —  how to help our financial advisors become the best financial coaches for clients that they can actually be.         

What constructive criticism of Wells Fargo has come out of your experiences as a client then?

I’m a good example of this — to push on us a bit. Our Envision process starts with, in my case, my husband and me, completing a series of questions about what’s most important to us, what we are most worried about.

And I can tell you in almost every single one of those conversations that we have with clients, the two people that might be involved in that relationship don’t necessarily agree because they’ve never had that conversation. If my first priority was education, or maybe I want to live the most exciting and fun life that I can, and maybe my husband wants to leave a legacy, the first thing the financial advisor has got to do is get in the middle of a conversation and push a little bit.

So training in the early days of Envision, when we first launched the financial product, was about helping advisors have different conversations.

Advisors were very accustomed to having a market performance conversation, but not helping clients work through financial goals and dreams they’d never thought about.

Now, when there’s the market volatility that we’ve experienced in the last seven years, and in some cases the indelible scars that a lot of clients carry from 2008 and 2009, how do we help advisors have a conversation around investing in a market that has certainly left them at times fearful?

How do you have a conversation with an anxious client, or clients who may not be as close to the market as they perhaps think they are? That’s a really skilled financial advisor who can navigate that conversation  and have a client feel great about it.

What challenge does work-life balance pose to recruiting more women and increasing diversity?

I think our industry offers at certain points in your career as a financial advisor the opportunity for flexibility. For many of our advisors, their work is their life and their life is their work. And what they are doing is so integral to the hopes and dreams of clients, but it also gives them the flexibility to work around the schedules that they can set, and that ebbs and flows in their careers. That doesn’t mean though that building a book as an advisor won’t be some of the hardest hours, days and weeks and months that you’ll ever spend. So that part of the financial advisor’s career life is incredibly challenging, just in terms of the sheer work and how hard it is to build that book.


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