Yes. The injury absolutely eroded my spirit, but I was 100% aware of what was happening in the market.
I was watching CNBC every day and getting The Wall Street Journal delivered electronically. All that definitely helped my state of mind.
How did clients react to your having the accident?
After I was accepted at Shepherd Center, one of the preeminent spinal cord rehabilitation hospitals in the country, literally every day for four months I received a card, letter or basket from one of my clients.
That kept me going. It was very inspirational to know that so many people cared about me — my clients in particular.
There was a handful of them, especially, that were just extraordinary. It was uplifting.
At the time of your accident, you were an advisor with RBC. After medical leave, you returned to the office. Did you work at home during the coronavirus pandemic?
Before the pandemic, I commuted to my office from home every day. During the pandemic, for the last year and few months, a lot of people worked from home. Some were perfectly fine with that. Others, like me, were not.
During the pandemic, I didn’t commute at all. [RBC] had the same playbook as the bigger wirehouses [their offices were closed]. I felt closing the offices was just wrong.
My strong feeling was that we’re a full-service industry, not a robo-advisor or an app.
Being able to come to the office is a major reason for my decision to move to Janney. Since I started here in [mid-May] I’ve commuted every day. At RBC, if a client wanted to see you in your office, they were precluded from doing that. At Janney, when you follow all the protocols, they can.
If you want to work in the office, you can; and if you want to work remotely, you can do that.
Tell me about your client base.
My clients have been with me for a very long time — my biggest accounts, for 30 years. The wealth management clients I have are 50% transactional and 50% fee-based. There are accounts with concentrated positions that I’ve had through the years. So charging a fee to manage those makes sense.
But transactional business keeps me involved in the market on a day-to-day basis. After my injury, [monitoring the market] was one of the things that gave me some degree of optimism about life and doing my job. I’m always going to have transactional business. The industry is changing and adapting, and I am too. But I have to do it in a way that makes sense for my clients and for me.
To what extent are you paralyzed?
I have some use of my arms. I can use a computer and feed myself. I’m left-handed; and, thankfully, I have function in my left hand more so than my right — though as I’m speaking to you, I just grabbed a water bottle with my right hand.
I have a mouse and a wireless keyboard that I’m able to operate. I can text and email. But I don’t have fine motor skills, and I can’t walk. I have a power wheelchair and a special van. I’m driven to the office every day.
Do you control the computer with your voice?
Sometimes when texting, I’ll use voice activation on my phone. My finger — the one you need to type with — works. That’s a blessing.
Everything in the industry, like trades, is done electronically now. If that weren’t the case, getting back to work probably wouldn’t have been realistic.
What’s the most challenging part for you as far as the work of an advisor is concerned?
The only thing I don’t do that I did before is send handwritten notes to clients. That’s the hardest thing [to deal with] because I loved that.
I always liked to express myself in handwritten notes; I was a minor in creative writing. I can have somebody write a note for me, but it’s not the same.
Overall, as a consequence of your injury, what’s the toughest aspect to cope with?
The lack of independence. For instance, I have a dinner meeting Monday evening. The hardest thing [about that] is getting logistically coordinated. When my aide is unavailable to drive me somewhere, I have to rely on friends or a family member to take me.
Do you market your practice, or are you entirely referral-based?
It’s been referrals, but I’m trying to grow my practice by reaching the disability world, especially people who have had spinal cord injuries.
I offer a unique perspective: While I was at the Shepherd Center, people said, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
I can imagine what [people with spinal cord injuries] are going through! So that, coupled with my industry knowledge and experience and having covered institutions, gives me an advantage over [other FAs competing for these clients].
But once you get [access] and articulate a strategy, your knowledge comes to the fore. So people work with you not because you’re disabled but because you’re competent.
What prompted you to want to be a financial advisor in the first place?
It was my father. He owned a few individual stocks and got annual reports. I’d read them and would be interested.
I was in a business class at Southern Connecticut State University. They arranged for certain students to become interns. In my senior year, I started as an intern with Shearson Lehman.
Then an opportunity came about with an advisor whose partner was leaving the business. I was in the right place at the right time. And with my fascination with [investing], things just, sort of, blossomed.
Your voice doesn’t sound like it was affected by the accident. Am I right?
No. Initially, it was. But because the diaphragm is a muscle, the more you talk, the more you strengthen it.
If I couldn’t use my voice, that would probably be a disqualifying thing for me to work. Well, I’m sure I could do it; but it would be much harder. I can’t yell at my kids as loudly as I used to — though I still yell!