A Las Vegas Investment Advisor Brings a ‘Personal CFO’ Touch to His Clients
Jin my Lee credits the start of his business career to golf, but not because he played the sport. The CEO of Las Vegas-based Wealth Consulting Group, a registered investment advisory firm with around $5 billion in assets under management, said his career path began with the relationships he made while he worked in the bagroom of a southern Nevada country club when he was a college student. at UNLV.
Lee’s 27-year career eventually led him to launch Wealth Consulting Group as a hybrid Registered Investment Advisor in 2014, focusing on financial advice and “personal CFO services” for high net worth clients across 33 branches. Across the country. He is regularly interviewed on economic and stock market news for outlets such as Bloomberg and Fox Business.
Lee sat down with the Review-Journal to discuss his company’s growth and his forecast for an economy facing runaway inflation. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Review-Journal: What led you to pursue a career in wealth management?
Li: I grew up in Las Vegas — I moved when I was 6 and went to college here. I studied finance and realized at some point in my college years that I wanted to get into investing, and I thought it could be done in two ways: maybe in banking investment or as a stockbroker. I got into the business in 1995. I met someone who was a member of a golf course where I worked. He was a very successful financial advisor in Las Vegas at the time, and I was already taking finance classes at UNLV, so when I talked to him and learned more about what he was doing, I got very interested. I knew that was the direction I wanted to take. When I graduated in the summer of 1994, he agreed to hire me on his team. But the brokerage firm he worked at wasn’t going to hire new interns until March because it only hired once a year. I wanted to have a job before that. (A friend) recruited me into MassMutual Financial Group in Las Vegas at the time. I started working there and in March I got a securities license. March was my first month of production, and I had a great month. I had a good first few years in terms of acquiring a few customers and earning money as a youngster. I was able to get the role (MassMutual) in addition to being a financial adviser, as an independent contractor of what they call an investment specialist, who ran the securities division of our office. Here, I was very young in my twenties, I had to go and get licenses that I didn’t have to do this (financial advisor). But I was overseeing and directing the sales and supervision of a securities transaction for a large corporation in Las Vegas. It helped me speed up my learning curve. I was able to learn very quickly about investments.
How unique is it to have a financial advisory and wealth management firm based in Las Vegas?
Las Vegas actually has a pretty strong financial advisor community, in my opinion. Are we a mega-space for large asset management firms headquartered here? Not really. Some institutions offer financial management services to nonprofit organizations. Apart from large publicly traded companies, there are others based locally that target collaboration with non-profit organizations or government agencies. But I think we are still the biggest who is domiciled here. Our average client is a “next-door millionaire” – someone who has been able to accumulate more than seven investable assets to live on in retirement age to replace their income. This is our target market. I think where we are unique is that we really believe that the financial planning part of what we offer is very important to client results. As a company, therefore, we provide the infrastructure for advisors to provide this in a very professional and consistent manner to their clients. We really do it as a loss leader. (Advisors) can offer these services without having to create all the infrastructure, pay for this service themselves, or do it themselves. I think that’s part of the reason we’ve been able to grow and add a lot of advisors to our team. A lot of advisors do financial planning and offer financial planning, but a lot of them do it as some sort of entrance to try to acquire a client. After that, I don’t know how good they are at ongoing financial planning for clients.
Fifty percent of your associates are women, 31% of your advisors are women, and 20% of company personnel are people of color. Can you tell me more about this failure?
I truly believe in diversity and inclusion. And myself, being a first-generation immigrant coming to the United States, I think it’s very important for us to be like the people we serve, the communities we live in. This really is common sense for all businesses. I didn’t try to build the company from that perspective, but we were able to win an award in 2018 from Investment News for diversity in our industry and since then I’ve been more aware of it. I wasn’t doing it intentionally but that’s what happened. I attracted a lot of female consultants because it was a comfortable place to work and other diverse team members because it was a very open place.
How has the stock market volatility over the past few months affected what you do?
Investors historically earn 40-50% less than what investments earn. This is because when there is volatility and the market goes down, they want to get out. As a financial advisor, a big part of our job is to help our clients manage their behaviors when it comes to investment decisions to ensure they don’t do the wrong thing. I think a lot of advisors even question their own beliefs about how we handle client money. I think it’s very important that financial advisors don’t succumb to the idea that they should do something different this time around. The reason we get paid what we are – and what investors probably need – is (we are) someone who can trust the strategy and keep it invested in the strategy we put in place. Volatility is a natural part of stock market investing. It can happen from time to time. This one is not unlike other bear markets. In fact, this one didn’t even drop as much as normal bear markets.
How are you preparing clients for this bear market or the idea of a possible recession in 2023?
The most important elements are to ensure that when you first enter into an engagement with an investor-client, you have helped them define their expectations. What we are currently experiencing is normal. If they’re surprised at what’s happening right now, if it’s new information, then shame on the counselor. They haven’t provided the proper education and information to prepare people for something like this. Second, if you’re a retired client, an investor should never be forced to sell their investments when they’re down to get cash to use for living expenses or to buy something . This should be included in financial planning. For retired clients, they have at least a year or two of release set aside in something that isn’t going to go down when that happens – the money market or cash equivalents. It is a financial planning technique, not an investment technique. So if clients are forced to sell things at a loss in order to buy things or live off things like groceries, they should fire their advisor and seek help elsewhere.
What do you think of the Federal Reserve’s continued interest rate hikes?
The Fed will likely raise rates two or three more times from now until the first quarter of 2023, and the target rate could exceed 5%. But I believe inflation is falling faster than the numbers show, like in housing, for example, which is about 40% of the core (consumer price index). I believe some members of the Fed know this, and I think they shouldn’t raise interest rates much more than they are doing. I believe inflation goes down on its own without them having to destroy the economy. So hopefully they slow down sooner than they predicted so far. It is very important for long-term investors to focus on the fact that the Fed will signal a break sometime in the near future. When they do, I think stocks will have risen significantly by the time those words come out of (Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome) Powell’s mouth.
What are your thoughts on how Las Vegas is handling these conditions and what might change for the city?
Vegas has always been very resilient, a very rebellious place, and we keep reinventing ourselves every time we take a hit. I think now we are isolated to some degree. Big business (and) publicly traded companies operating in Las Vegas are very aware and cautious of the potential recession ahead and slowing consumer spending. But I think they’re also optimistic because Las Vegas has always been resilient. With sports, tech companies, and all the other economies starting to grow in Las Vegas, I think we have more industry than we have outside of gaming. I think they will be able to support growth. While I think people need to be cautious about the short-term downturn in many areas, like consumer spending perhaps, I really don’t think consumers are going to get into a bad recession. It’s not my prediction. I believe we will have a slowdown. But if anything, we will be one of the best cities when it comes to the performance of global economies in 2023.