No. 19: Michael Merlin

Firm: Morgan Stanley

AUM: $819 million

Location: Atlanta

Age: 37

Note: This profile is part of a special series devoted to On Wall Street’s Top 40 Under 40 ranking for 2012. Every day we take a look at an advisor who made the list to find out the secrets of their success.

For Morgan Stanley financial advisor Michael Merlin, bridging the generation gap poses both potential gains and challenges. “I work with multi-generational families, not just individuals,” Merlin says. “My age presents huge advantages. It lends a sense of comfort to the elder generations, as they know their plans will be carried through consistently once their assets pass to their children.”

Older clients may be looking for a young advisor team, according to Merlin, providing continuity that can span generations. “I have a wonderful opportunity to connect with these clients,” he says. “In addition, we have a chance to show the next generation that we are very capable.” Such a demonstration, in turn, may help retain client assets after they move into the children’s hands.

But connecting with the family patriarch or matriarch is not always a simple matter, Merlin admits. “Some older clients have strong opinions,” he says, and advice provided by 30-something advisors may not mesh well with those opinions. Does he ever find clients disagreeing with his suggestions?

“If I get a raised eyebrow from a client, I know that we did not do a good job,” Merlin says. “We do a lot probing before recommending anything.”

That strategy to make listening a priority when meeting with clients was particularly effective in a recent discussion with a prospective client. “That client had become disenchanted with the current advisor,” Merlin says. “I looked at the investment statements but found nothing out of sorts. After further discussion, I realized the current advisor had not been listening to the client’s needs.”

By listening, Merlin determined that this prospect wanted investments that provided both income and growth potential. “The other advisor was not addressing both concerns, which were equal priorities,” Merlin says.

Responding to these objectives, Merlin suggested a plan that included writing covered calls to create income. “By uncovering someone’s main goals, we can produce a customized investment plan,” Merlin says. “Every client is different, so we do everything that’s necessary to build and maintain good relationships.”