With wealth management experience spanning 33 years, Jeff Erdmann has earned a reputation as one of the country’s very best financial advisors, even being named America’s top wealth advisor for the past two years by Forbes. In 2010, he was joined at The Erdmann Group by Tony Carpentieri, a rapidly rising star in the world of private wealth management who was on Forbes’ list of “Top Millennial Advisors” in 2017. Today, together with a 29-member team in Greenwich, Erdmann and Carpentieri oversee more than $8 billion for a select group of high net-worth families. (About 85 percent of the families they work with are led by current or past presidents, CEOs or founders of public or private companies.) They manage all facets of a family’s financial affairs—including everything from bill payment to retirement. But what makes The Erdmann Group—part of financial services firm Merrill Lynch—so special is that it has the intimacy of a small boutique firm. And because Erdmann and Carpentieri bring such a compassionate, genuine, human side to personal finance, they’ve built a fiercely loyal client base.
Tell us about your business outlook.
Erdmann: We want to provide the ultimate client experience for sophisticated wealthy families. What we mean by that is helping people figure out [things like] when they can retire, how much they can live off of, if they should sell their company, if they sell it, how should they sell it, should they borrow money should they not, when should they give their children money and should they give their children money, how much money should they give their children, how do they protect their children through trusts and other vehicles, should they get divorced or not get divorced, should they include people in their will or not…There are many subjects that there is no playbook on, so we start with family first.
How do you learn what matters most to people?
Erdmann: We all have a rule that we never want to speak more than 25 or 30 percent of the time in that early process [of meeting with someone]. We want to talk about what matters in your life—[things like] your children, health, family, retirement, homes, wealth.
Those can be pretty emotional topics.
Erdmann: They very much are, but very few people have anyone to talk to about them. We ask questions and we listen. Ultimately our job is to give them outcomes, to figure out how they should protect their child financially or how they should provide income or where they should live and what state and all of that; but the big picture piece is the first part.
What questions do you get asked most often?
Carpentieri: [Clients] want to know what other people are doing, so sharing the best practices of others has ultimately led to better advice from Jeff, myself and people on the team because we have experience on everything they ask.
Erdmann: Where we really add value is that we have incredible experience working with lots of sophisticated different families, and we can give wisdom and perspective. That is the great differentiator.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people making?
Erdmann: Reacting to certain movements in the market or a certain political party or who’s president or not president. Those are all short-term things. To be an investor you have to have time and patience and you can’t let emotions drive you.
Carpentieri: When people lose their humility and don’t try to understand something and take valued advice from other people’s experiences because they’re experiencing it for the first time.
Any trends potential investors should be aware of?
Erdmann: There are still very, very good long-term opportunities in owning high-quality global stocks. We invest more in non-U.S. dollar companies today than we did two and three years ago.
You often advise people through delicate situations like divorce.
Erdmann: The statistic I’m most proud of with our practice is that when you run a business like ours you have several clients who go through divorce, and in our 33 years we’ve never had either spouse move on to another advisor. It doesn’t happen with our folks because we have these deep relationships and we’re not focusing on what the stock market does on any given day.
What financial advice do you give most often regarding people’s children?
Erdmann: We think it’s really important to catch children between 12 and 25 and start educating them on understanding wealth and how it works. With younger children the best and easiest way to do that is through philanthropy, to introduce them to the concept of giving, how much to give, that some money goes to savings and some to expenses and some goes to folks you might be able to help. I think allowances are good for children; I think that kids have to have skin in the game.
What were your first jobs?
Erdmann: I was 14 and I was on a house painting crew for a summer. I used to ride a bike through New Canaan down to Stamford. One of the greatest gifts I had was a working mother in the 1970s, and my mother was a full-time executive at a prominent company. To this day, in her 80s, she’s still one of my great role models.
Carpentieri: I was 15 and I worked in a movie theater. I was the ticket tearer and the concession stand manager. It was the easiest way for me to not spend money on taking girls out on dates [laughs].
Why do you think you’ve been so successful?
Erdmann: We both have a tremendous amount of humility. We love people and love what we do and we like making people happy. The term that a few consultants have used when they’ve first met with us is “empathy.” You need to have a lot of empathy to be successful in our line of business.
What do you most love about what you do?
Carpentieri: I love to learn new things and ultimately give great advice from that education.
Erdmann: I love being part of people’s lives. The minute I stop having deep, impactful conversations throughout my day with my clients, or anyone for that matter, is when I really worry.—MC