Welcome back to the thirty-eighth episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast!
My guest on today's podcast is Winnie Sun. Winnie is the co-founder of Sun Group Wealth Partners, a hybrid RIA on the LPL platform based in Los Angeles that oversees nearly $200 million of client assets.
What's fascinating about Winnie's firm, though, is how she managed to successfully launch her advisory business in a wirehouse through cold calling - with a unique tactic of calling businesses after hours, to deliberately read her cold calling script to their voicemail, and get those cold-calling prospects to call her back! From there, she evolved her business development strategy into a seminar marketing approach, before she ultimately shifted into a niche advisory firm servicing clients in the television and movie industries... building on her background with a television audience production company she founded when she first graduated from college and worked with shows like America's Funniest Home Videos, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune.
In this episode, Winnie talks about what "works" and what doesn't when it comes to social media marketing, why she still balances spending 2/3rds of her time in the wealth management business, and 1/3rd engaging in social media, video, and other multi-media efforts to market her business - because as Winnie puts it, "if no one knows you exist, you can't serve them as clients" - how she's structured her team with a partner to support her practice, and the details of why she ultimately decided to break away from a wirehouse to join an independent broker-dealer... despite the generous offer a competing wirehouse had made.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Winnie shares her perspective on everything from the challenges of our industry's gender or racial diversity - or lack thereof - and the relatively simple change that could be make the advisory business more appealing to young women, along with why she chose to pursue social media marketing, as an introvert, to help facilitate her own work/life balance while growing her business.
So whether you've been curious about what it takes to successfully grow a business via social media, or are simply looking for alternative marketing ideas to cold calling scripts, or want some perspective on how targeting a particular type of clientele can be amplified with digital marketing, I hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success podcast!
What You’ll Learn In This Podcast Episode
- Sun Group Wealth Partners as it exists today [2:38]
- How empathy for a particular type of clientele has helped Sun Group Wealth Partners grow a solid reputation [6:55]
- Why Winnie continues to host tweet chats even if it doesn’t directly bring in business [19:47]
- How Winnie manages work/life balance between running an advisory firm, social media marketing, and being a mother to 3 young children [23:27]
- Why social media is perfect for introverts and help you be more productive [23:27]
- Crucial differences versus building an email list and a large social media following [26:59]
- The difference between different social media platforms and creating content specific to each platform [33:25]
- How Winnie’s Asian upbringing, including a family bankruptcy, led her to financial planning [44:14]
- Winnie’s “painless numbers game” to get results from her cold calling script [55:45]
- Why Winnie decided to transition from a wirehouse to an indepedent broker-dealer as a hybrid RIA [1:04:44]
- How advisory firms (and the industry at large) can better attract women and minorities in the industry [1:20:15]
Resources Featured In This Episode:
- Winnie Sun - Sun Group Wealth Partners
- LPL Financial
- Redtail CRM
- Sun Wealth Group Tweetchat - #WinnieSun
- Britney Castro - Episode 32
- Financial Advisor Platform Comparison: Wirehouse vs RIA Aggregator vs Independent RIA
Full Transcript: Leveraging Social Media to Grow Your Client Base Efficiently with Winnie Sun
Michael: Welcome, everyone. Welcome to the 38th episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast. My guest on today's podcast is Winnie Sun. Winnie is the cofounder of Sun Group Wealth Partners, a hybrid RIA on the LPL platform, based on Los Angeles that, oversees nearly $200 million of client assets. What's fascinating about Winnie's firm, though, is how she managed to successfully build her advisory business, starting in a wirehouse with cold calling, with a unique tactic of calling businesses after-hours to deliberately read her cold calling scripts to their voicemail and get those cold calling prospects to call her back, and then how she evolved that into a seminar marketing strategy, and ultimately shifted into a niche advisory firm servicing clients in the television and movie industries, building on her own background with a television audience production company that she had first founded when she graduated from college, working with shows like "America's Funniest Home Videos," "Jeopardy," and "Wheel of Fortune."
In this episode Winnie talks about what works and what doesn't when it comes to online and social media marketing, why she still balances spending two-thirds of her time in the wealth management business and one-third engaging in social media, video, and other multimedia efforts to market her business, because as Winnie puts it, if no one knows you exist, you can't serve them as clients. And how she structured her team with a partner to support her practice, and the details of why she ultimately decided to break away from a wirehouse and join an independent broker dealer in the first place, despite a fairly generous offer a competing wirehouse had made.
And be certain to listen to the end, where Winnie shares her perspective on everything from the challenges of our industry's gender and racial diversity, or lack thereof, and the relatively simple change that could be made to make the advisor business more appealing to young women, and why it is that she chose social media as a path to marketing as an introvert, specifically to help facilitate her own work-life balance. So with that introduction, I hope you enjoy this episode of the Financial Advisor Success Podcast, with Winnie Sun.
Welcome, Winnie Sun, to the Financial Advisor Success Podcast.
Winnie: Thank you, Michael, for having me.
Sun Group Wealth Partners As It Exists Today [2:38]
Michael: So I'm excited to have you on the show. You have, I think, just a little bit of a different focus to your advisor firm than a lot of other advisors that we've had on the podcast so far that, you know, I'd say we've talked to a lot of folks that do the traditional wealth management, lots of dollars for retired folks, helping them spend down their money through their later years, and there are big pots of money there. You have an interesting business with lots of different lines and areas. You've done work on the 529 plan space, you do a lot of work with millennials, and so I'm excited to have you talk about the business that you've created. Just to kick us off, can you tell us a little bit about Sun Group Wealth Partners and your advisor firm? What do you do as it exists today?
Winnie: Sure, sure. Well, Sun Group started back in the early 2000's at Smith Barney, and we went independent in 2011. So our clientele, we have clients just as you've described, we have clients that have retired or are retirees from mainly the television, movie, and press industries, and of course technology as well, because we're here in Southern California and we do traditional full service wealth management, like I know many of your listeners do. But I probably, what makes us a little bit different, I would say, is I always describe our practice in this way. We do, at least I do, my normal day consists of about 60-70% wealth management, and 30-40% multimedia.
Michael: 60% wealth management, 40% multimedia. That's an interesting split to the day. So I want to ask a lot more questions about the multimedia end, but to start, let's talk about the wealth management end and what that business looks like. So you said you started Smith Barney, you went independent. So are you an independent broker dealer, are you an independent RIA? What does the setup look like for you?
Winnie: Yes, we're currently with LPL Financial, and we're a hybrid advisory firm. So a hybrid RIA firm. So we do brokerage business as well as advisory, and right now it's all with LPL.
Michael: Okay, so are you actually under LPL's corporate RIA? Or do they let you do your own outside RIA and you just do your custody on the LPL RIA platform?
Winnie: Right, so we have our own RIA, and we custody at LPL.
Michael: Okay, and sort of size of practice overall? I don't know if you look at it in terms of assets or revenue or clients. Like how many people are you serving?
Winnie: So I manage about $200 million myself, and we have a team of 12. So it's just around there. I would say it's between like 190 to 200, around there.
Michael: Okay, and that's a blend of RIA advisory business, brokerage business, kind of things that you've accumulated in all the different areas over the years?
Michael: Okay, and how many clients is that? Like how many folks do you interact with and work with in the firm?
Winnie: We have about 300 clients.
Michael: Okay, and kind of full range of ages, types, folks that you work with? I mean it sounds like you said you've got the full spectrum from millennials to retirees?
Winnie: We do, we do. I think our client base skews younger. My business partner and I, when we joined LPL, we were in our 30's, and right now...Like Brandon just turned 40, I believe. So we're in our early 40's. So our clients do tend to reflect that as well. We do have a much younger client base, but our clients tend to be married couples, and usually power couples. So both husband and wife are pushing really hard, mostly executives, and specifically we do have a niche in that we do work with a lot of people in media and entertainment.
How Empathy For A Particular Type Of Clientele Has Helped Sun Group Wealth Partners Grow [6:55]
Michael: So I guess it's kind of natural being there in Los Angeles, having the concentration there. So I mean, are there differences in the dynamics of working with folks that are in television and movie versus other clients? Do you have to work with them differently? Or is that just a place that you're known where you're now working and doing business development to get clients?
Winnie: Well, prior to joining the financial industry, I actually owned a television audience production company. So there are certain nuances, and I guess some things about them that are somewhat difference. Their need of liquidity and just the way their contracts are and the way they move to different companies. So I do think that that's something that we know very well. We also work with, obviously here in Southern California, a lot of clients in technology, and it just seems to be a better fit since they look a lot like us. So we talk a similar language, and because we all understand media and we understand multimedia and social media, it makes it so it's not just a conversation about their finances and their wealth management, but really the full spectrum of the things that are top of mind as it pertains to their future.
Michael: Okay, well it makes sense. Just the nature of niches, you can talk their business and their world a little bit more effectively when you've lived it for a while. So what's the structure of what you do for clients? Are you focused more on the investment management end, are you more on the financial planning end, are you a blend of each? What does the ongoing offering look like for clients?
Winnie: Sure, I think we definitely buy financial planning. That is the core to our practice. That's usually where I come into play. I do handle a lot of the more sophisticated financial planning needs for our clients, and then we have an area of our team that handles more of the daily trading, building up portfolios. We do meet as a committee to discuss investment portfolios, but then we do have a group that handles that as their primary function, the trading, execution, maintaining those reviews for clients, and whatnot. So we run a very consistent practice, meaning that everything sort of is scheduled.
Michael: In terms of what, like how you manage portfolios? Are you a firm that puts people onto models? Or what does that process look like for you?
Winnie: We do have some models, but generally speaking, many of our portfolios are custom because we do have some clients with heavy concentrations of company stock or specific liquidity needs, or they have a lot of private equity. It's just a multitude of different, but what is consistent, though, is we do have a lot of groups of clients at one company. So that does make it easier for us to manage the relationships.
Michael: Okay, so it's part of the extension of your niche that you're particularly deep into a few companies in particular.
Winnie: Mm-hmm, exactly.
Michael: Okay, and what does it look like from a revenue perspective? Are you mostly advisory fees, are you doing a lot of commission based business, are you a firm that charges separate planning fees as well? What does the revenue mix look like for you?
Winnie: Well, we are mostly, getting to be more and more such thing, we're a hybrid firm. So we've always had brokerage business and advisory business. Given the regulatory environment that we are in, we're definitely skewing a lot heavier in advisory than any other segment of our business. But nonetheless, we do quite a bit of financial planning. We don't charge for financial planning currently. We could in the future. It's just, you know, having come from a wirehouse where we didn't in many cases, so we just kind of kept that consistent for our client base. But that could change going forward. I think the needs of our clients and the needs of our practice are changing. So we are keeping very open-minded to what we're going to do the next chapter.
Michael: And you said you had a team of about 12. So what does that look like in terms of the structure? Are those advisors, operations folks? How does that break down for you?
Winnie: Yes, so my business partner and I, Brandon and I have been business partners now for about 16 years. So we started at Smith Barney together, and he leads a team that handles the suction of investments, the monitoring of investments, updating clients and that. That's kind of been his group, and then we have our support staff, which includes several Series 7 licensed individuals. And then I call it my team, my team kind of leads not only in, like I definitely walk in both roles, but obviously people come to me, every new client actually meets with me, and I kind of lead on all the financial planning matters, but I also lead in all new client acquisition efforts. So my team and I, you know, we have the video team, we have social media. They all report, or I shouldn't say report. We all work together.
Michael: Interesting. So you've got kind of team support around advising clients and team support around the marketing/business development side of things.
Winnie: Right, exactly.
Michael: So what does it look like-
Winnie: I imagine you do, too.
Michael: Yeah. Most firms kind of build in team structures over time. And yeah, I've got a team that supports me on the blogging and handling all the behind the scenes stuff for the website, and then obviously our advisory firm is a whole team of people unto itself. So in terms of advisor structure, are you ultimately still the lead advisor on all clients? Are clients kind of split between you and Brandon? Are there other advisors in the firm that handle client responsibilities after you do the business development? What does that allocation look like?
Winnie: So our firm is one book of clients. So everybody works with everyone, and we decided on that kind of early on. I mean that might change in the future, but right now it's been that way. So my goal was always not to have...When a client calls in, I want them not to have to say their last name. We should know who they are, and I always felt that if I needed to ask your last name, then perhaps we have too many clients. So in terms of communication, they definitely do talk to me, but I think on a more regular basis, on the portfolio reviews and what not, it will be with Brandon or somebody in his group. We have trained millennial advisors, new advisors coming in, and we can always talk about that if you want to, but that's something that is going to take some time. I'm sure everybody thinks this about their clients, so I apologize if this is kind of redundant, but I do feel like our clients are very special, in that being, if you have an Oscar coming out and you have to attend The Oscars and your movie, you're waiting to see how it opens, I mean these are very specific clients and they don't have a lot of time or patience, but they do have a lot of sophistication. So it's not like I can necessarily put a rookie in front of them. It has to be a principal of the firm. So because of that, Brandon and I have made the decision very early on that we just probably, you know, to the benefit of our clients, maybe not to the benefit of us, we just decided not to grow so fast, so quickly, where we couldn't maintain the quality of the advice for our clients, or they didn't feel like the experience ever depreciated even as we got bigger.
Michael: Yeah, so do you look at this as there's some capacity limit or that's going to break down for you and that you have to make a shift? Or are you just kind of rolling with it and see what happens as you get there?
Winnie: I think that's a good question. The capacity issue is a good question. I don't see that being an issue just yet, I think, because we do a very good job managing assets and we have a really specific system in terms of client maintenance and service. So I feel like that we're very strong in, but I do think that in order for us to grow more quickly, I think we have to adopt a model kind of like what you've described, Michael, for your own practice and a lot of advisors who are very successful have done in terms of expanding what we do and who we do it with and having other advisors join us. The question comes along to, do we want to be a super OSJ? I’m not sure that I can't answer that question just yet, but I think one thing I will say, you know, I speak at so many of these financial conferences. I was just speaking at Focus, and I'm thinking I might meet you at FinCon, but I think there's a dramatic need for really building more personal branding and doing more social media, and a lot of advisors have asked me to help them with that. In fact, advisors are considering joining our firm just so I can help them with that. So that's something I think we're exploring and certainly very open to doing.
Michael: And so what does the business look like from the technology end? Most of us have kind of a core technology stack, something for CRM, something for portfolios and trading, maybe some planning software. So what's the software that powers the advisor firm for you?
Winnie: Right now Brandon could probably speak on that a little bit better than I could, but for our CRM we use Redtail. We use several different platforms for research. So that's something that probably Brandon would speak better about, but I know for sure we use S&P, we use Morning Star, we use FactSet and a couple others, and really a lot of the news that we follow, I think, and research is readily available on Google or on some of the various financial sites.
Michael: Internet is the great equalizer for access to investment research these days.
Winnie: Exactly, and my playground is obviously Twitter. So I do follow so much of my research on Twitter. So yeah, I mean I think we have fully embraced technology, and I can't go into too much detail, but we're creating some software just for ourselves to use. I'm fortunate because my husband is really high level, how should I put it? He's always been in technology, for like 30 years, but he's a very high level security network engineer. So he's actually helping us build out some software that will be helpful for us to continue to be highly compliant in some of the marketing activities that we do, because marketing is such a large piece of what we do.
Michael: So that's tools to help manage all the social media and digital marketing in a compliant way? Or is that about CRM and an alternative to Redtail?
Winnie: Well, it could bring everything together. Right now we're just focused on social media and archiving and shareability and what not. But in terms of our CRM, I think so. I think we will get to a point where we will have to update the CRM, because Redtail is great. I mean it's certainly very user friendly, but it doesn't nearly do what we need it to do, especially from a social media standpoint. We almost need like a, gosh, there are so many great social media tools. We almost need a really robust social media tool that just flows right into the compliance archiving of what we need for our industry.
Michael: And it's the CRM, ideally, right? So I can go to a client's CRM record and see our recent phone calls and our recent interactions, and their latest tweets and whatever job change they posted on LinkedIn recently. It's striking to me that there are lots of tools that do this outside of the advisory space that build deep integrations to social media and digital marketing tools, and automatically have bridges to software like MailChimp, and all of that seems to be missing so far in our advisory industry. We still kind of run CRM's like really big, fancy electronic rolodexes from 20 and 30 years ago.
Winnie: I don't even think they're that big and fancy. They just sort of work. If anything, I think of them as just like digital file folders.
Why Winnie Continues To Host Tweet Chats Even If It Doesn't Directly Bring In Business [19:47]
Michael: Yeah, it's kind of how they live at this point, unfortunately. So you said about 60% of your day is wealth management and 40% is multimedia. So what does that mean exactly?
Winnie: That means that in addition to speaking to clients throughout the day, or prospective clients, much of my day is spent actually creating content. Creating mostly video content, some written content, certainly a lot of social media activities in addition to having a podcast, which honestly isn't a huge focus for us. It's already very, very important, but I don't think do it so well, so we don't focus as much energy in it. I would say that probably one of the unique things that we do is we have the largest financial tweet chat on social media, which is every week, every Wednesday, where we bring in close to 350 million impressions per hour. So one of the largest out there where we have various financial experts and topics and what not. So that's probably-
Michael: What's the tweet chat? What's the hashtag and when do you do it?
Winnie: The hashtag is #winniesun, just one word, and we do it every Wednesday 2:00 p.m. Eastern.
Michael: Okay, for our listeners who maybe are less familiar with Twitter, can you explain what a tweet chat is? And then I'm kind of curious for how did that come about and what do you do with it now?
Winnie: Sure, so a tweet chat is essentially when you go on Twitter and you see what's trending at that moment. You can see that it's trending because there's a hashtag that's trending. So it could be, for example, let's say that today's Friday. So it could be like #followfriday. That could be what's trending for the day, or like if Trump says something about Russia, Russia could be trending for that day. So during the time that we have our tweet chat, generally speaking #winniesun will trend that day, during that time that we are on Twitter, and we've having a discussion on various financial topics or business or entrepreneurs, social media topics, where people from all across the globe will join in during that hour and participate in the community and speak to one another, but all through Twitter. So you're literally typing, like our tweet chats are so fast. A lot of people who join us for the first time say they feel like after they join us for even half an hour they need to go and take a nap because it's very high energy. And that's what we do. We've done it for quite a few years. I actually don't even know how long we've done it, but it's been a while, and it's just become so huge that even when I travel now, it's like I have to figure out a way just to break away from the conference or what not to maintain that chat, because the audience is waiting for us to participate.
Michael: Interesting. So what do you talk about on these? What do you do with them?
Winnie: It just depends on the topics. Sometimes we'll talk about, for example, we've had several conversations the last few months on the topic of personal branding and the importance of telling your story. So then we'll write about 11 different questions and we'll have a question that will say, "Why do you think it's important to share with people your story?" And so people all across the globe will answer that question, and they'll interact with one another. So we've built a very loyal community where every week we have a different discussion, we have different experts, we have panelists, and a lot of people follow what we do on social in that respect.
Why Social Media Is Great For Introverts [23:27]
Michael: So I feel like some advisors right now are probably wondering, and how exactly does that get you clients?
Winnie: Yeah, it doesn't.
Michael: How does that translate into business? What's the business case for this?
Winnie: That's the million dollar question. I know, and this is such a reasonable question. This is actually what my business partner asked me so many years ago, and now he doesn't ask me anymore, but he used to ask me all the time, "How is this good for business, how is this good for our bottom line, and why are you doing this?" but the truth of the matter is that if you think about it this way, if you walk out, let's say you walk out of your office and you go to a restaurant. How many of those people are you going to meet? You might say, "Well, lunch is business." I had lunch with a very high level executive today, and we had a great lunch, but I didn't know who was sitting behind me or next to me or anybody else. So although I was in a very high profile place, I didn't meet that many people. And if you think about when you go to cocktail hour, how many people are you going to meet that night? I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly the most outgoing person. So I might meet three or four people-
Michael: I'll be sitting at a corner, wherever, like the back, quiet corner of the places, and yeah. Cocktail parties are not my thing.
Winnie: Me neither. I am a true introvert, to the nth degree of definition. So for someone like myself who just isn't great at those types of activities, it doesn't come natural to me, what's your other option? The other option is, and this came from all my work in television and the television audience production company. I understood the importance of building that audience, because it doesn't matter how good a financial advisor you are. If no one knows that you exist, you essentially don't exist, and eventually you will get to a situation where you have nobody to serve, you have no clients to serve, and no one to contribute to pay and support your team. So you're going to be in a pickle. So I realized, you know, now I'm a parent with three very young children. My oldest is eight, my youngest is three. And I wanted to be able to have life balance and be with my children and everything else. So it enables me, social media activities like this, tweet chat, enable me to come to the same place every week where people expect me to be there and can interact with me. So while I'm talking to you right now during this very special time, I have people and processes and things out there still prospecting for me. So I have duplicated myself, which my business partner says, "You've duplicated Winnie." So I've duplicated Winnie out there.
So it certainly has given me quite a bit of business. To give you an idea, I just signed a client from LinkedIn when I first started doing LinkedIn, and it was a healthy eight figure client. And this literally happened about two weeks ago, I got a message on Facebook saying, "Winnie, do you work with nonprofits?" And I said, "Well, yes, of course I do work with nonprofits, and this is what I can do for them," and they said, "Okay, great. Well I'll ask them if they have an interest, and if they do, I'll circle back with you. So two days later I get a call, and they said, "Well, I read your Wikipedia profile to them, and they decided that you were the one. We voted, it was unanimous. So we've already made instructions to the other advisor to liquidate into cash, and you just send us a transfer of paperwork and we'll send it over." We didn't even talk about investments, we didn't talk about fees, we didn't talk about anything. Just based on that, it's a healthy seven figure account that's coming over. So yes, social media has been very good.
Crucial Differences Between Building An Email List And A Large Social Media Following [26:59]
Michael: So they found you through the social media world? Like this is presumably someone that's been following you for a while. How does that kind of inbound business come about?
Winnie: Well, this nonprofit, I had a connection with this person for a long, long time, and we're connected on all the different channels, but in particular, they are very active on Facebook. So they just follow all my shares and what I do, and they know me very, very well because of the interactions that we have. So always top of mind.
Michael: Yeah, there's an interesting effect that just, the steady stream of social media keeps you top of mind. I mean, the truth is so much of what we do that works on social media, it's really not much more than the good old drip marketing that we've been trained as advisors to do for a long, long time. It's just, we used to do it by trying to get people's business cards, and then we would send them a printed quarterly newsletter once every few months to try to stay in front of them, and now you can just send out LinkedIn updates and Facebook updates and tweets and do the same thing, and you don't have to pay for all the postage and mailing.
Winnie: Exactly. Certainly I think you've done a really amazing job with this. You know, we're getting to be better. I think building out that email list is critical, but I think that what we have done is we have created a reason for them to stay connected to us via these social media channels. So although I would love to get everybody onto my, like we talk about, MailChimp list, I don't think that Facebook is going away. So if I can get them on Facebook, I feel like I'm 80% there.
Michael: So you've been less focused on making email lists and more focused on just getting followers, page likes, things like that, directly on the social media platforms?
Winnie: Yes, I think so, because if you think about it, I mean I don't know how much time you have per day. I imagine you're extremely busy, and our clients reflect this, right? And think about how many emails you receive and how many emails our clients receive. So I'm sure my clients, you know, in my mind they love me, and I know we have a very great relationship, but I'm sure my email isn't going to be the first thing they're going to want to read, especially if it's something like an update or newsletter. They're going to probably wait until later, after they get all their movies approved and everything and all the talent, all they have to do, and then maybe once a week they might read something from me, versus if I post it on Facebook or what not, when they're in their happy place with their families and just relaxing, they might actually see what I'm sharing. So I feel like I'm being much more mindful of my audience and my target market, and understanding to make it a lot more user friendly for them. At least with my client base I've found that to be more effective.
Michael: So can you talk a little bit as well about your balance of content and doing video? I feel like advisors doing social media in general, there are not a lot of us that have gotten very active with it. When you get to video, it's even fewer that are involved.
Winnie: Oh, really? I didn't know that. That's good to know.
Michael: Yeah, I just don't see very many advisors at all that have done things like try to build YouTube channels or try to build video following. So can you share a little bit more about what you've been doing on the video end? Like what are you doing and what have you found that seems to actually work and get some results?
Winnie: Sure. I do appear in the media a lot. So you may have seen me on CNBC, Fox Business Channel, Megyn Kelly, a whole bunch of different shows. And what I realized is that the power of video, right? It wasn't so much that they actually were up when I was on Maria's show on Fox Business at like, you know, 6:00 in the morning, but the fact that I could then share it, there was this kind of unspoken credibility. But most importantly it was very easy, digestible content. So it was easy to watch, right? And most importantly, I really want to hone in on baby boomers, which is very, very important, but also our target market is Gen X-ers and Millennials, are a really key focus for us, because we do see money shifting. Not only that, I mean I'm a Gen X-er and I know my parents now who are in their 70's, when they're contemplating important financial decisions, now they actually see me as an adult. So they actually now have a lot of these important conversations with me, right? And I can see that shift, where a lot of my clients who are Gen X-ers are having those responsibilities for their parents as well as their children. So it made sense for our team to focus our efforts on where the puck was going. So how do you do that? It's very difficult for people to read my Forbes column and say, "I want to do business with you." I mean that's great that they do, but they don't know my tempo, they don't know how I speak, they don't know anything about me except that I wrote a piece that resonated with them.
So I realized that as uncomfortable as it was, it was important to consistently produce content that triggered them to think that perhaps they need to reach out to me when they were ready, right? So we started creating some YouTube videos. I mean, frankly, I'm sure your podcast has a lot more listeners than my videos do. My videos don't have a ton of views, but as they got better and as we started doing more live on these social media channels, I do a lot of Facebook Live and I do some work on Twitter as well, all of a sudden the numbers started to get very big really quickly, because of our social reach. Because we already had the built in audience. So a lot of people starting on social media, they might have like 300 followers on Twitter, they might have 10,000 on LinkedIn or whatever, maybe a couple hundred on Facebook, but because I already have such large numbers, like on Twitter as of today I think we're at like 235,000 followers on Twitter. So we have the audience already built in that's ready to consume our content. So by sharing it on these platforms where they are, we've gotten a lot of traction, and for us it's moved the needle, but most importantly since I speak at so many conferences and I do appear on television shows, it also gives me a chance to get better at what I do.
Why It Is Important To Create Content Specific To A Social Media Platform [33:25]
Michael: Interesting. So as you look out there overall, what do you feel like is working the best in the social media realm and kind of digital marketing realm, and what have you tried that just didn't work at all?
Winnie: Yeah. I just spoke at the Focus Conference last week in Boston. I think one thing that I learned and shared was that, a lot of people think you can just post one thing and spray it on all of your platforms, spray it on Twitter, spray it on Facebook, spray it on LinkedIn all at once. And yeah, it's a really efficient way of managing your social media, but it's probably one of the worst decisions to make, because essentially you're saying, "I really don't care about you, the audience. It was easy for me, so I just did it," and not really evaluating the context and the platforms, because every platform is very, very different. What works on Facebook doesn't work on Twitter. It just doesn't. It might work for you in that you have not that many followers and you're not getting a lot more followers and not much interaction, so that's consistent, but for me, I can't afford to waste time. I have very young children and a very robust business. Time is an issue. So I want to make sure that everything I deliver out there has a good ROI, a good investment of my time, which is critical, because I could easily spend my time doing seminars and what not and bringing on clients, too. So I need to be able to justify this social media activity. So it meant really evaluating the different platforms, really seeking out centers of influence, the right influencers, and play in that playground and getting to know what resonates and also getting to know what will generate business. So not just doing social media for the sake of doing social media, but doing social media for the sake of new business development, and not offending my audience so that people get sick, anytime they see a post from you they just ignore it.
Michael: Given all of that, I'm still curious which, particularly from the business development end of not just doing social media for the sake of doing social media, but trying to drive new client results, are you finding some platforms work better than others, you get most of your business from LinkedIn, but not so much from Twitter, or vice versa? What actually do you find drives business results, and what's kind of turning out to be a waste of time from the actual client business development end?
Winnie: Sure. If you had talked to me a year ago I would have said, "Well, Twitter is obviously my baby because it throws the biggest net out there, but Twitter doesn't give me any business." That's what I would have told you a year ago. It's not the case now. I definitely get business from Twitter now, but I would say LinkedIn has been great. I signed a couple very large clients from LinkedIn. It's a good place for our industry because it's more traditional business. So us spewing stuff about our industry is not quite as offensive on LinkedIn, and for many of us that's a lot easier, just to share something from CNBC or Forbes. Easy peasy, right? And then Facebook I've had to learn culturally what works best, but I have now proof of concept on all platforms, including YouTube to having not only new client business, but I also do a tremendous amount of brand business now. So brands will come to me and hire me to be a spokesperson for their ABC Company, whatever. So there's been a lot of new opportunities that have come in direct correlation to what we've built through social.
Michael: Yeah, we had Brittany Castro on episode 32, kitces.com/32 if anyone wants to go back and listen, and she's followed a similar path. The growth in social media and audience presence for her eventually led to opportunities for her to do kind of brand ambassadorship and work with some large companies in, I think, a similar context. So when you get down to platforms like LinkedIn, because industry studies would say that's the platform that advisors are on the most. I don't know how many of those are actually engaged on LinkedIn and how many say, "I'm on LinkedIn," because once they made a LinkedIn profile that they haven't gone back to in several years. But I guess if we're trying to actually be active on LinkedIn, what are you doing that's actually getting clients there? Is that like you're going outbound and trying to find people to work with? Is that, you're sharing content there and they're contacting you to do business? What does that interchange look like for LinkedIn?
Winnie: Sure. I always think that my clients are going to look just like me, and we've all read the studies, everyone tells us that to be the case, and I think like myself being the introvert that I am, I'm not going to be the type that's going to really jump out. If you come and try to sell me something or even introduce a concept to me, I tend to be the person who will just ignore you. It's not my thing. I don't like to be sold, but I like to be introduced to different ideas. So that makes me a very hard target, but I think a lot of my clients are similar. Our clientele isn't the normal clients. It's a very specific type of client. So with LinkedIn for example, this is kind of my strategy, at least from our client base. It may not work for everybody, but for my client base, what we do is, whenever I have some time I'll go on and I'll make connections with people at the companies that I already have clients at or industries that I have a lot of clients in, and the majority of the time they'll connect with me, because I think I have a really good bio. I spent like hundreds of copies to write my bio. It's not perfect, but I think there's enough in there that somebody will find something they can connect with. To give you an idea of how much effort I put into LinkedIn, I don't put that much. I have about 22,000 connections on LinkedIn. So obviously I could do a lot more, but I've done more on the Twitter side. But what I do is, I do share consistently on there.
Michael: And what are you sharing? Like what do you actually put on there that you share?
Winnie: Well, I think you did this as well, but I used to write for Nerd Wallet. I've written for Forbes now for about five years. So sometimes I'll share that content. I'll also share other relevant news that's come out that I think is of interest. And because I have a lot of friends, like real friends, so a lot of them will comment. So that continues to reengage and spread my content to their audience as well. So that's kind of how I've done LinkedIn. So because of that, the only thing that I will message people or reach out to them, even if they accept my connection, I don't send them a message saying, "Hey, it's great that you connected with me," because I feel like if they did that to me, I'd be a little annoyed, only because I get so many messages anyway. So I actually don't do that. The only thing I do is once in a while I'll wish people happy birthday or happy anniversary, and that's about it. And if they then come back and say, "Hey, thanks, Winnie. That's great, I appreciate that, and can we jump on a call?" then I'll check out their profile and see whether or not I should jump on that call, and if I think there's interest to jump on a call, then usually what I'll do is have someone on my team kind of call to set up the potential call, but to filter that call ahead of time. So I do have a very strict criteria of who I can do calls with, and the amount of time I can, because there's just too many incoming leads. Between Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, I mean I probably get 50 inquiries a day of people wanting to talk to me for 15 minutes. That's always their line. "I just want to talk for 15 minutes."
Michael: Yeah, I just want to pick your brain for a few minutes.
Winnie: 15 minutes, yeah. I don't have those 15 minutes. So we need to have a funnel to filter out who's serious and who's not. So my team was really acute at that.
Michael: So what are the filters that you use to actually winnow that list down? What does your team look for to make those decisions?
Winnie: Well, first and foremost, obviously, are you looking for Winnie to help you manage your money? And then they usually say yes or no. They might try to trick us and say, "Sure," and then it turns out not to be the case. And although I don't really have an account size minimum, I have minimums, it's just not an account size minimum. It's a different type of quantifier. But my team will say, "Winnie usually doesn't engage a call unless at least you have $1 million of investible assets that you could transfer to Sun Group. What stage of that are you at? Are you ready to change?" Something like that. It just depends on the context, on who it is that we're working with. Or number two, are you looking to do a brand partnership with Winnie? Then we ask that your budget be at a minimum of such and such an amount. Are you looking for her to speak at a conference? Her minimum speaking fee is such and such. So we have different criteria. By that time usually the bulk of the people have been filtered out.
Michael: Yeah, that's kind of the challenge that comes if you have success in digital marketing channels. It can bring in a lot of inquiries and interest. The good news is that brings some very valuable clients. The bad news is that also brings lots of non-qualified prospects as well, right?
Winnie: Oh yeah, a ton.
Michael: I think in our industry there's always been a dynamic that you have to qualify your prospects before you go and spend time with them, but I find once you start doing more of that with social media at a larger volume and scale, it really, really becomes necessary to qualify prospects that you're talking to before you spend time with them, or there are just too many of them to talk to, and most of them are a waste of time because they're not there to do business with you.
Winnie: Exactly, they just want to talk to you because they think you're interesting. So that's another reason, like on my social channels I generally don't include email, because otherwise too many people will email you. So I just actually put the phone number, and interesting enough, most people don't like to pick up the phone. So that's actually a really good method.
Michael: A good screening tool.
Winnie: Yeah, don't put a toll free number. Put a regular land line number, and believe it or not, that solves a lot of your headache, because they really want to reach you.
Michael: Right, because unfortunately emails are free. If you put a free email address out there, they're going to hit it because, why not?
Winnie: They're going to hit it all day long. Yeah, they're going to spam you. Like today, for example, we've had seven calls today, "I just want to tell you that I'm grateful that we're connected on Twitter." It's like, okay, great. Thank you.
How Winnie's Upbringing Led Her To Financial Planning [44:14]
Michael: Thank you, yeah. So how did you come to the advisory world in the first place? What led you here? Like did you have a family background that tied to the financial services industry? Or what was the path that brought you to being in a place like Smith Barney?
Winnie: Yeah, actually growing up, my parents are immigrants from Taiwan. I mean, we really didn't know what a financial advisor was. I think my parents were pretty much the typical Asian parents. Doctor, attorney, or engineer. Those were your three choices.
Michael: Doctor, attorney, or engineer. Okay.
Winnie: Yeah, everybody else is just dirt, right? But pretty much that's what they raised us to believe in. So I was a typical Asian kid. I was really good in school, had like a 4.8 GPA. It was insane, I was so good. Then I got into the schools that mom and dad wanted me to get into, and then about three to four months prior to going to college, my mom pulls me aside and says, "Honey, we know you did really well in school and stuff like that, but remember that project that we invested in, in Clairmont with our friends? Well, one of the partners went bankrupt. So we're going bankrupt, too." So it was scary. So literally months before college-
Michael: Oh, so like there's no college dollars, there's no parental assistance here.
Winnie: It was not even college. It was like, we've got to make sure that we didn't lose the house. It was, you know, 17-18 years old and that was the way it was going to be. So it definitely wasn't a bad thing, because I think...Probably I could tell my parents always felt so guilty, because the typical Asian parents are great savers, but they didn't have a lot of great financial advice. So they just invested in what they knew, which is real estate. And they feel so guilty, they feel like they failed me because I got into some really good schools, like private schools that I wasn't able to attend for a lot of reasons. But I always feel like it was the biggest blessing that could have happened, because I ended up going to UCLA and I started working right off the bat because we needed money, and that's how I got into television production. And then financial planning actually was because I wanted to better understand some of the stuff my parents were doing, and I felt like I could help them.
So I took the CFP program at night while I worked in the daytime to do that and feel like I could bring value to my parents, because I didn't really feel like their advisor who, at that point they had an advisor who manages a very small account, but I just felt like this family friend wasn't giving them the best advice. You know, the typical 20-year old, I thought I could do better. So that's how it kind of came to be. And then once I was almost done with the program, the dean of the program, who happened to work at Smith Barney, said, "Winnie, you're ready. You should go interview at Smith Barney." And that's really how it came to be. So I interviewed at Smith Barney. I was sure I wasn't going to get the position, because kind of like what we chatted about prior, I just went into this recruiting room of 100-plus people, and I didn't look like a single person in the room. Everybody was good-looking, they were all one nationality.
Michael: And you're a 20-something Asian-American female.
Winnie: Yeah. I didn't know this term until I walked into the wirehouse, where another advisor told me this was what I was, about two weeks into production, but I learned from the financial industry that I'm a double minority.
Michael: You're a double minority because you're female and you are not white/Caucasian.
Winnie: Asian, yeah. So he says, this advisor, I still remember his name and everything else, but I won't say it. He was really nice about it, and he says, "Wow, the manager got a good deal from hiring you, because you're a double minority." And that's where I learned the term. But yeah, so I really kind of got into the industry by accident, because I had a really great job prior to that, working in television. I was doing really well. My clients included "America's Funniest Home Videos," and everybody else.
Michael: So what pulled you over, what made you decide to make this the job instead of just letting the CFP classes be an interesting hobby and thing you learned and read on your own while you continued to work on the television industry?
Winnie: I think because my parents were disappointed. They felt that they had sent me to a great school, and here I was working in television. They didn't feel that was an appropriate industry, they didn't feel that was to my full potential, and-
Michael: It was not law, it was not medicine, it was not engineering.
Winnie: Yeah, exactly. And at least in the financial industry at the time, you know, Smith Barney did a great job with advertising, like, "We make money the old-fashioned way." So although my parents weren't completely familiar with Smith Barney, they kind of knew Merrill Lynch, and it kind of seemed like it had a little bit more of a proper element, and then you got to wear a suit. And my boyfriend, who's now my husband, he was like, "Well maybe, honey, because you work from like 2:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. some days on these television shows. So maybe this is something you can consider, you know, working in finance." So really-
Michael: It might be a slightly better, I think that's a striking thing, given how hard the hours are and how much work people put in when they're trying to get started as a financial advisor, that you chose it for better work-life balance during the startup years.
Winnie: I know, right? One of my really good friends, I just had lunch with him yesterday, is Randy Jackson from "American Idol," and we joke about that, like, "You know, I don't know if I made the right decision," but I absolutely love the financial industry. So it's great because now I get the best of both. I get to do media work as well as help people with their money. I will say, I think, it's going to sound funny because we're financial people, but it's never been about the money. I love doing it for the challenge and making a difference, and I really, really, wholeheartedly believe that. So I have a wonderful business partner who I trust completely who manages and keeps track of every dime and nickel that comes in. So that gives me peace of mind that nothing is going to get lost, but aside from that, I practice with my heart and I trust that I'll have enough money to pay my mortgage every month and support my family, but the rest of it I really don't care that much about.
I just want to do it for the sake of doing it. So I think a lot of advisors are going to be like, "She's a complete dodo-head for saying that," but that's just my personality. I didn't come from a lot of money, it's not that huge a priority for me. My husband didn't come from a lot of money. We live very comfortably now, and so I feel like I can make more of a difference doing other things, and like you, Michael, I know, because I follow your stuff and you're absolutely a role model I've looked up to for so long. And I think that I just feel like there's more to what we do than just what we do. So that's why my business is the way it is. It's just because I don't want it to be one way. I don't want to only be a wealth management firm. I have no interest in that. If that were the case, I'd probably get bored, and that's never a good thing. So it has to evolve, and I'm going to evolve it to a firm that my kids are going to still want to invest in.
Michael: So that's part of what leads you as well toward continuing to do the multimedia and doing brand ambassadorships and things like that that go beyond solely focusing on the wealth management firm itself.
Winnie: Yeah, I think that was the case for me, because I was sick of, I tweet this often, but basically what I said is I was just tired of the story that my industry was sharing about me. So I just decided to start sharing my own story, and that's what we did. You know, it used to be that you would go to a cocktail event or a social event, charity event, and people would say, "What do you do?" and they'd be like, "Oh yeah, I work at DreamWorks, I'm in marketing." Oh, wow, and everyone's so excited. And what do you do? And I was like, "I'm a financial advisor." And they're like, "Oh, great. You know what, I've got to catch up with Betty. I'll see you in a little bit." And then they would just leave. So I call it the financial advisor stink, you know? I felt like there was a negative connotation that if they me they would feel that I was going after their money when they didn't even get to know me. So I knew that I had to change that conversation and that impression. So I've completely changed it so that now I'm in a situation where I go into a room and everybody wants to introduce me to everybody, and that's exciting to me, and now they're asking if I would consider managing their money. So the conversation has completely changed. So I can be my introverted self and not say too much, and business now comes to me. That took five to six years to get to that point.
Michael: Interesting. It's a fascinating transition, just how that turns. I feel like there's a trend of that, a surprising number of advisors I've talked to that have had success in digital marketing and social media are introverts, and that one of the virtues of working in the social media space is that it seems to be more comfortable for those of us that are introverted. And I'm the same way. At a cocktail party I'm the furthest possible from the action at the quietest, darkest table that-
Winnie: I'll hang out with you.
Michael: Yeah, we can hang out together in the corner where there's no noise and traffic. But social media just kind of works. Like it doesn't, as an introvert, it doesn't have the intimidation factor, I guess, I don't even know what to call it, that just makes cocktail parties sound dreadful to me, but social media is fun.
Winnie: Yeah, social media is so much fun.
Michael: Yeah. So you got started at Smith Barney. So I mean what was it like in that environment getting started and trying to get traction as an advisor? Just kind of wirehouse in the 2000's, basically?
Winnie: Yeah, I started production in January of 2000, and you know, having worked in-
Michael: That was good timing. You missed the market top by four months.
Winnie: Yeah, it was an interesting time. Well, I think one of the biggest benefits, which I didn't know at the time, I got in the business at 24 years old, and when they recruited me they asked me so much about my television business. And I wasn't quite sure why they were asking me, because I was trying to explain to them I don't work with celebrities. You don't understand, I don't work with celebrities. I'm only filling the audience, so I'm not sure what you're asking me. But I thought in my head they probably think I know celebrities because of it, and that's probably why they wanted to hire me. So when I started the business, I knew very little about anything, actually, and definitely nothing about prospecting. But as you can tell because we're having this conversation, when you sound like you're 13 years old, like I do, one of the benefits of cold calling is you never get hung up on. I mean I literally never had anyone be rude to me on the phone.
Michael: Because you-
Winnie: Because I sound like this.
Michael: You don't sound like anybody else who cold calls from a wirehouse at the time.
Winnie: Yeah, and I felt like they wanted to help me, right? Because I mean I'm calling you and we're having a conversation, but I just don't sound very intimidating. So I literally built my business cold calling, and honestly-
Michael: Oh, my god. You did.
Winnie: I was a cold calling powerhouse. I'm not even exaggerating.
Winnie's "Painless Numbers Game" [55:45]
Michael: So what was the cold calling routine?
Winnie: Oh goodness, so I try to reverse engineer everything. We talk about being introverts. I've always been an introvert. So although nobody hung up on me, the prospect of calling a stranger was very intimidating. So then I figured out, well why am I calling them? Because that's a lot of work, and then half the time they don't want to talk to me. They're not rude, but they don't want to talk to me. And it just seems like I'm interfering with their life, and I wouldn't want someone to call me. So I shouldn't do it. So what I ended up doing is I would come to work all day, of course, but around 6:00 I would start calling people. So my husband, who's this really brilliant techie person, he created a spreadsheet for me. So for example, let's say I was calling Boeing and I knew their phone number was like 714-712, blah, blah, blah. So my husband created a spreadsheet, so I had every single number on that spreadsheet. So all I would do is call at night when everybody went home, and I would leave a voicemail, like, "Hey, this is Ana Marie. Leave me a message. I'm not here. I'll call you back tomorrow. If you need engineering, call this," so I'm like, okay. I would call, "Hi, Ana Marie. This is Winnie with," at the time, blah, blah, blah. I think my spiel was like, "This is Winnie Sun calling from Smith Barney in Pasadena. I'd love to get a chance to chat with you. Can you please give me a call back?" and I'd just leave my phone number. And I would do that, I literally left hundreds of messages every single night, and then next morning I'd just sit in the office and wait for people to call me back.
Michael: So your cold calling script was leaving messages because you didn't want to actually-
Winnie: Yes, exactly.
Michael: Have to deal with the people.
Winnie: Yeah, because that way they didn't have to tell me they weren't interested. So my ego didn't get hurt and it would save me time, and it was a lot easier because I could literally just knock them out. And while I was doing this, I was building my lead list, too. So instead of buying a directory of, let's say, Boeing, I just wrote down names. So if I wanted to call them again, I could call them during the day, and now I would know their name.
Michael: So how many people called, I'm just curious...If you left 100 messages for Boeing folks or 200 or however many you'd go through in an evening, how many callbacks did you actually...I mean I guess this worked. You got some clients.
Winnie: Well, I'd probably go through about 300-400 a night, and I'd probably get like 12 or 15 calls back. And I mean I did really well. Smith Barney has something called Blue Chip Council, which is really tough, in the first four years of production. I hit every single goal. In two or three years I was already in a corner office. So I was killing it in terms of prospecting.
Michael: By doing cold calling that avoided actually calling people that would answer the phone.
Winnie: Yes, exactly. And then-
Michael: And the cold calling script was, I mean it was really just kind of, "Hi, I'm Winnie. I'm from Smith Barney. I'd love to get to know you. Call me back"?
Winnie: Hey, Michael, this is Winnie. Yeah, or it could be as simple as, "Hey, Michael. This is Winnie calling from Smith Barney here in Irvine. Can you please give me a call back? My number is," blah, blah, blah. That's it. So they didn't even know why I called. Just that, "Please call me back."
Michael: And they'd call back. And what happens when they call back? "Hi, Winnie, I'm Jim. You left me a message yesterday."
Winnie: Yeah. It's always like, "Hi, Winnie. This is Jim. I'm not sure why, but you left me a message. What's this regarding?" And then I would of course say, "You know, I work with Smith Barney, I'm a financial advisor, and I'd like to talk to you and meet with you." Something like that. I don't exactly remember the exact spiel. This was quite a few years ago. So that's how I built it, and it's just a numbers game, but because it was such a painless numbers game-
Michael: Because no one was saying no to you, because you called after hours.
Winnie: Exactly. If they didn't call back, that meant they weren't interested, and what I would do is I would repeat the process. So I would call them, and then I would call them again, and then another month over I would call them again.
Michael: So where were you getting the numbers? Or would you just start, like sequence dialing?
Winnie: Yeah, I sequenced it.
Michael: If you know Boeing is area code and exchange such and such, like you'd just do 0001, 0002.
Winnie: 714-712, zero.
Michael: And you'd just go through the numbers.
Michael: Oh my gosh. So you would cold call messages all night, and then take the callbacks during the next day to try to set meetings?
Winnie: Mm-hmm, and I didn't worry about Do Not Call lists. I mean I would screen them by Do Not Call lists, but I wouldn't worry about the timing of it, because I think in California we could call until 9:00. So that's essentially what I would do. I called the companies. I didn't call people's homes. I called the companies until 9:00, and then I just waited. I could get in early and just wait. And during that time-
Michael: I guess ironically the cold calling process is very efficient when no one answers their phone. It's just however long it takes to ring to voicemail, and then you leave your 15 second thing and move on, so you can do quite a few every hour at that pace.
Winnie: Mm-hmm, and Smith Barney had these cool phones. You wouldn't even have to hang up. You just had a drop button. So you could just hit Drop and you could dial again. So it was so fast.
Michael: And you'd just dial them in sequence, and then write down on the spreadsheet if it was a live number, and see who called you back?
Winnie: Yes, and a lot of times the call would be like, "Yeah, this is Betty. I now no longer work here. If you need to reach me, call Joey at this number." I'm like, okay, Joey's at this number. So then I'll put Joey down.
Michael: So you would record the name from the voicemail so you would know who you just called?
Winnie: Yes, exactly, because-
Michael: Because otherwise you don't know. You're cold calling blank numbers.
Winnie: Yeah, and everybody says their name on the voicemail. So that's what's great. And it sounds more familiar, sounding 13 years old and saying, "Hey, Joe, this is Winnie." They're like, "Do I know you?"
Michael: And they call you back, and that's what gets you to a first conversation.
Winnie: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I'd have a conversation and then I would invite them to a seminar, because I learned that the most successful advisor in the office, he was doing seminars, and so then I thought, okay, I should do seminars. So I started doing seminars, and I would invite people to my seminars. So that would be my next call. So once I started doing one call, then I started doing other calls. The call would be like, "I just want to let you know, I'm hosting a lunch and learn event at the restaurant across the street from your office. I'd love to see if you would be able to attend." And I would just leave that message, and then what would happen, this is what was so cool about this system, at some point even if they didn't RSVP, they knew the event was happening. So they felt like I had already invited them. So if their schedule worked out, they would just come.
Michael: They would just show up. So that was the whole building process, was cold calling and then trying to get people to seminars. What was the seminar that you would do? Do you have a particular topic or spiel, thing that you would do for seminars that was working for you?
Winnie: Well, it's actually the same seminar I still do today. So I don't ever talk about product at any of my events. So generally all my topics are personal finance related, and they stem from current news. For example, like today there's all this talk about how baby boomers aren't moving out of their homes. So millennials are having a real estate crisis because there are not enough homes to buy. So that could be something I decide to have a seminar and talk about. So it's really not so much about what I talk about it. It's how I talk about it and how I build a relationship once we're in the same room together. I do, as my business partner says, I show well. So I do know that. I've done this long enough to know that my closure ratio is really good. So I just need to get in the same room with them and have some sort of interaction for them to trust me.
Michael: Interesting, and then you're just back to the numbers game, just leave enough messages, get enough callbacks, get some number to the seminar. If you can get some number to the seminar, a segment of them are going to close. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Winnie: Yeah, so that's really how it kind of started. That was the first few years, and then later on by reputation people found out that I was really good at building business, and my numbers were really good, and then I caught the attention of a very large team at Smith Barney who did stock plans. I'm not exactly sure how I connected with them, but somehow we got connected, and then they started having me handle some of the executives at some of these publicly traded companies that we handle the stock plan for. And then word of mouth just spread about how I took care of people. And yeah, that's kind of how it got bigger.
Why Winnie Decided To Transition To An Independent Broker-Dealer As A Hybrid RIA [1:04:44]
Michael: So how long did you stay at Smith Barney in going this route?
Winnie: So I was with Smith Barney over a decade, so about 11 years. And then Morgan Stanley bought Smith Barney out. So I never left Smith Barney. I left Morgan Stanley.
Michael: Okay, right, because after the financial crisis, everything got changed. So you were out a couple years after Morgan Stanley came in to buy Smith Barney. Was that kind of the impetus? Like you were happy at Smith Barney in the Smith Barney world, but the company changed once Morgan Stanley came in, and you weren't as happy in the Morgan Stanley environment?
Winnie: Yeah, it just wasn't such a good fit for me anymore. I had started my practice in the Los Angeles area, when I first started at Smith Barney. I transitioned over to Orange County, where I am now, at the Smith Barney office there, and it's always been about being happy. Like you nailed it there, and I felt like the manager I was with in Orange County really took me to a whole different level, meaning because he was so strict, he was tough as nails, and he was complete no-nonsense, but I did very well under that structure. I mean, everything was so fair. It wasn't that I was female, I wasn't the manager's favorite, nothing like that. He treated everybody exactly the same, and that's where I did well. That wasn't necessarily the case with the other Smith Barney office I was at. So once I went there, I did well because I was working with him and he made sure that he took everything else off the table, so all I could do is focus on prospecting, which is what I did best. And then when Morgan Stanley bought us out, he was a divisional director. He handled so many offices and his wife was a manager at the office, too, and they all left because they couldn't handle working under Morgan Stanley. And that's actually the first time I even talked to a recruiter, because up to that point everybody knew Sun Group would never leave, Sun Group loves it there. You know, my manager's name was John Kanap. John Kanap was exceptional. Everybody knew you couldn't take a team from John Kanap because he was so good a manager. Then he left and literally, as soon as it happened we got offers by everybody. Yeah.
Michael: Because the good recruiters knew that as soon as he left, all the teams that were loyal to him are going to be in play. So they went after him.
Winnie: Right, so they all came after us. And really the reason I came to LPL, and I didn't know anything about LPL really. I knew almost nothing about it. I had heard of it, obviously, because it's publicly traded and what not, but it wasn't like I had any negative or positive feelings toward the company. We actually had already, after quite a few months of due diligence we had decided to join another wirehouse. All the wirehouses wanted us, they were all great firms, but we settled on one that we felt was a good fit for us after many months of recruiting meetings. Then I called John and I said, "John, we just signed with this company. I just wanted to let you know that I'm going to be going here," and I kind of kept him on the loop a little bit through that process, but we weren't to that point yet, and he wanted to let me go through my choices. And then when I told him, I literally told him, "I just signed and turned in the paperwork." I was calling him on my way back, and he goes, "Hold on, Winnie. Have you looked at going independent?" and I'm like, "Going independent? What are you talking about?" I didn't even know what that means. I literally had no idea what going independent meant, and I thought to myself that it was for somebody a lot more seasoned than us, a lot more experienced than us.
Michael: With the caveat that you were 10 years in already.
Winnie: Mm-hmm, we just didn't think we were ready. We really didn't think we were ready for independence. He said, "I'm going to take this meeting, and if you think it's interesting, then I might participate too, and we might be able to do this together." So that to me sounded exciting, because I loved working with him, and the fact that I'm his only team that he wants to do this with, I'm like, okay, this says quite a bit. So we went through the meeting together, and literally within two weeks we decided to go independent. It was crazy, and we turned away all that money.
Michael: So what did it? What led you to make that decision and go the independent channel and not go to another wirehouse?
Winnie: Well, a couple different reasons. Number one, I felt...You know, the firm that we decided to sign with told us that they offered us like the biggest cash offer they've ever offered. So that was great in that it was a lot of money, but it didn't really feel great, because I felt like I don't know how I'd feel if the client asked me did I do this really for the right reasons. Because it felt just like a variation of what I was already used to. So I felt kind of dirty in that way, and then the second thing was that, you know, a big part of what I do today and what I was really gung-ho about, even at Smith Barney, I said, "I really want to build this thing. I need to market this thing. I really need to market this thing. I need to talk to the media more often," and you can't do that in a wirehouse. I can't be on CNBC and Closing Bell or all of that stuff. And so I wanted to have that flexibility. So independence offered that flexibility to me. I met with LPL, they told me all these things, it sounded incredible, the JD Power Associates client satisfaction rating was off the charts high. So everything seemed perfect, and I could tell my clients I actually did this for them, that it was to their benefit, because the numbers show this. And then they said, "Oh, but you're not going to get any money for coming here." And I was like, wait, what?
Then I turned to my business partner and he was like, "Yeah, no. Not going to happen." So then we're driving back, it's a very long drive now, going back, and I was like, "I don't know. It feels so good." And he's like, "No money, Winnie, no money." I'm like, "I know, but it just feels so good. I just feel like this is what we should be doing." He's like, "Well, let's go to a wirehouse for a little bit, and then we can come here later." I was like, "But I want to do it now. We could do it now." And nobody will go after our clients again. We'll own our clients outright. Because nobody will go after them. So I think it took Brandon a little bit longer, it took him at least a week, and then finally I get a call from him, or maybe it was in the office. He goes, "Okay, Winnie. If you really want it, we'll do it," because he's just that amazing a friend. So I was like, okay. But he was like, "I hope we're making the right decision." And that's how we did it.
Michael: So having made the transition, are there things about going independent that surprise you now as you look back? Has it basically gone the way you expected? Or what was different being independent that you didn't realize when you were in the wirehouse environment?
Winnie: So many things. I think, you know, we expected having to find out own payroll provider and our own medical benefits. That kind of stuff we were prepared for, finding our own office space, finding our own telephone. That to me wasn't foreign. I had already opened and started a very productive business prior to being in this business. So that was easy peasy.
Michael: Yeah, so you'd been down the road of how to deal with that infrastructure.
Winnie: Yeah, I'd already owned and run a business for many years, so that was fine. But the thing that surprised me was just that, well a couple different things. Going independent has a lot of different nuances and different models and different structures. Everything was so different, like so foreign, like complete different languages. It's like going from English to speaking Spanish. It was so different. Technology is also so different. You know, in the wirehouses because the fees are higher, in many cases, and because of that, a lot of that money goes to some of the best technology out there. So we had at Smith Barney, in my opinion, some of the absolutely best technology. And going independent, we didn't have that. So it took a while to get used to not having such robust tools, and even-
Michael: Is that like the trading and investment research side? Is that just the CRM and managing your practice side? What was the-
Winnie: All of it.
Michael: You just felt like the wirehouse technology was better than-
Winnie: Far ahead, better, yeah. So much-
Michael: -than what you experienced on the independent side?
Winnie: Right, far and away better. It's like comparing a 10 to a three. I mean, it was so much better. But I wouldn't go backwards ever. The reason is because going independent, and I don't think it's for everybody. I think a lot of advisors flourish in the wirehouse model, and that's great, but like for us it's great because I think coming from the wirehouse was such a blessing, because the wirehouses taught you such intensity. Everything was about meeting that monthly number, right? And having set goals and there was so much competition that I always say it's like we were trained like soldiers, and then when we went to the independent we were like, "Now what do I do? Nobody's watching me." So luckily if you had spent some good time at the wirehouses, your work ethic continued on in the independent channel. So you become a dominant player in the independent model, because a lot of independent advisors don't compete at your level either.
Michael: So you're happy to be on the independent side, but don't regret that you started on the wirehouse side because of the training and development?
Winnie: Oh, I'm so glad having both. Yeah, I think it was a blessing to have both. I don't think I could have gone directly independent, because I think it was kind of like Dumbo's feather. I do think that having the big brand firm name behind me certainly helps, especially with some of the clientele that I work with. Exclusive clientele like the fact that I came from a big firm, you know? That's been helpful.
Michael: So there's like a boutique effect that, like, well you used to be at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, now you're independent. That's okay, but if you had just been independent from the start, it doesn't have the same kind of gravitas behind it?
Winnie: Yeah, it doesn't feel as...Some of my clients are CEO's of major movie networks and television production companies. So they definitely love the fact that I've already been at a big firm for over a decade and this is what we did. They understand that. Some of the nonprofits, too, it's just good credibility. They always reference like, "Oh yeah, but she used to be at Smith Barney." I'm like, yes. Or Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.
Michael: So the other thing I've got to ask about, you mentioned it briefly earlier, but as you went through all these changes as well, you said three children aged three to eight. So you were making this transition to independence without the check with like a little one and a second on the way? Or two having just been born or something?
Winnie: Yeah, I had a really little one and I had one in my tummy when I left the firm. I literally was pregnant with my second child.
Michael: When you decided to break away and not take a check.
Winnie: Yeah, when I left.
Michael: So does that, I don't know, how does that play into the decision or discussion? Or did it?
Winnie: It did, I mean I was very upfront with everybody. I'm like, you know, in the wirehouses the environment is very different from the independent channel. I really didn't know the difference at the time. So I shared with the wirehouses that I was really serious with. I mean I wasn't showing, so I just said, "I want you to know I'm actually pregnant. I'm going to have a baby like five months from now." And they're like, "Okay, well you need this much time for transition to move all your clients, and then how long did you take last time?" I said, "I took about four to six weeks." They're like, "Okay, well like a month?" Okay, I guess I get a month. And then when I went the independent channel and met with LPL they were like, "Yeah, no problem. Do whatever you need. Work from home. We don't care." It was just so different.
Michael: You're independent. You really don't answer to anyone.
Winnie: I had no idea what that meant. I'm like, "What do you mean? Do I need to tell you? What do I do?" They're like, "Oh no, you just do whatever you want. It's your own company." Oh, okay. Yeah, it was such a foreign idea.
Michael: Yeah. How do you manage that balance, though? Like going through that transition with a little one on the way, and then you've had another since then. So now you have three. How do you manage that balance of parenting and business?
Winnie: Well, that is actually the reason I started to do social media, is because, you know, being the personality that I am, like Brandon will tell you, it's not that you need to tell me to work harder, it's that you need to tell me to work less, because I just tend to work a lot. So when I had children I had to make a decision. I didn't want to be one of those parents that just had children for the sake of having children, but I actually wanted it all. I wanted to be the mom who would drop the kids at school, pick them up, volunteer, do all that, so my child really didn't miss out from me working so much. So that was something really attractive to me in the independent model. So I could work from home, because at the wirehouses, they had the online system, but it was clunky. It wasn't easy to use, versus LPL, I mean from day one I had a laptop. So I could work anywhere, and that was for me a big deal, because I wanted to have children the right way. So that's why I did social media, because I bring in all the business from my team. I didn't want me having children meant we were slowing down in terms of growth. So that actually, my children-
Michael: Right, because otherwise you've got to show up at evening networking meetings and just all the stuff that often goes with business development that kind of messes with your time with kids in the family.
Winnie: Right, I would have to do dinners and lunches all the time and do seminars all the time, and I didn't want to do that all the time at that stage. I wanted to raise my children the way I felt like they deserved to be raised. So my husband had been bugging me for years to do social media. When Facebook first started he was like, "You should create a Facebook account," and being the introvert I'm like, "I don't want to share anything," and I'm so private, right? I don't share anything. So I didn't do Facebook until the point where I finally decided to do Facebook was when I had my second child, and then by that time my name Winnie Sun was taken everywhere. So I couldn't even get my own name anywhere. And there aren't that many Winnie Suns in the whole world, just so you know. There are like three, but I was so behind at this process. So finally I did social media really at the encouragement of my husband only because I felt like I needed to continue to reach clients and be able to maintain my relationship with my kids. And that's how I do it now. This is why I do so much now, because most days I go drop my kids off to school and I get home and have dinner with the kids every day, too.
How Advisory Firms Can Better Attract Women And Minorities [1:20:15]
Michael: As we get to the end here, the other thing I've got to ask you, you talked about maybe the awkward dynamics of being a double minority in the wirehouse environment, but as you know, our industry statistics are pretty abysmally bad for anything that has to do with diversity. You know, 77% of CFP's are male, only 23% are female. That number has basically been flat for about 15 years. Business owner female advisors is an even smaller percentage. Minorities is even smaller. From your perspective, what is our industry doing so wrong that we can't seem to figure out how to move the needle on either racial or gender diversity?
Winnie: Well, I've said this many times, but I think one of the most important things we need to change is, if we're not only going to attract women and minorities, but also just the next generation, we've got to come up with a maternity leave program. In our industry in 2017, there is no maternity leave program. So when I went on maternity leave the first time, there was nothing. There was no real program. I just went to talk to my manager and we just sort of figured it out, and I would continue to update him on when I was coming back. That has to change.
Michael: When only 10% or 20% are female and not all of them are necessarily having children or of child bearing age-
Winnie: You don't need a program.
Michael: Yeah, you're like, well, only one out of 30 people actually has a baby here. So I guess we don't need much of a maternity policy.
Winnie: Yeah no policy. But if you think about it, the next generation, these are important things for them. I remember being pregnant in the wirehouse with my first child, I hid my pregnancy for the first six or seven months while I could. I was wearing baggier suits, like dark black suits and dark blue because I just felt like I couldn't be open with my pregnancy, that they weren't embracing, and I felt like they were vultures that were just coming after my book. It was just not a very positive environment.
Michael: If you know Winnie's going to be pregnant, then you know there's a window coming up where you can call on her clients and try to get them.
Winnie: Yeah, you can call her clients. You can create a relationship where you take my clients. So I didn't feel like I had the option to stay by myself as a sole practitioner. I felt like I had to have a business partner. Luckily Brandon has been such a blessing in my life, and friendship and in business. So he was a great partner for me, but I didn't feel like I had the options, like looking back I don't think I could have done it without Brandon. I would have lost business and clients.
Michael: Because that was part of the stability and continuity of your team, that like, "No, no, vultures. You can't come in. We're a partner team and Brandon's still here. So he's marking the territory so the vultures can't come in." I mean that's part of the dynamic in the environment that you were in at the time, the pressure.
Winnie: Yeah. I've talked to people in the industry. I think it's still sort of like that. And also I think the other thing is, management needs to change, and I feel like I used to hear people say this and I would think it was ridiculous, because I'm not the type of person to change trends. I'm not a trend changer, I have to say, in the bureaucracy of companies, but I do think that until management start to look a little differently, I remember in the wirehouse, when I was working in LA at Smith Barney there would be this breakfast group, this little breakfast group they would do every Friday. The manager would bring a group of advisors every Friday to breakfast, and it was always-
Michael: Breakfast with 10 white men.
Winnie: Yeah, exactly, male. So you always knew women were not invited, and it was just kind of understood. I think about that now, like that was so bad back then, but if they had really embraced us, not just saying, "Well, you get extra bonus for hiring a double minority," but saying...Like I remember when I was interviewing, even. I interviewed with a female manager at a different branch, and she gave me a lower offer than she would pay her assistant. She just didn't believe that I could do business. And I remember that feeling, like, "I don't want to work for you, but I'm going to prove you wrong." But I think we have to-
Michael: You wouldn't work for her for the pay, you would just work for her to spite her.
Winnie: Yeah, but I didn't work for her at all. But it's interesting, because at the end of the day it's about business and it's about our clients. The great thing is that your clients don't care what you look like. Your clients care that they like you and they trust you. So it's so funny because our clients come in all different flavors. So why do advisors only come in one flavor?
Michael: Well said. So as we come to the end here, and this is a show about success and an advisor that had some success, and we've long observed in the podcast that the word itself means different things to different people. To some it's driven around dollars, some it's driven around growth, some it's driven around legacy, some it's driven around balance, like lots of different things that define success for us. So I'm curious, as you look forward for your path from here, how do you define success?
Winnie: I define success when my children say that mom was the best mom, and that's it, because I think that means that I was present in their lives, I was able to provide financial support to them, and I was there to be for them. That to me is the only thing that matters.
Michael: Amen, I love it. Well, thank you so much for joining us here on the Financial Advisor Success Podcast.
Winnie: Thank you, Michael, I'm so grateful for the opportunity. I'm a huge fan of you.
Michael: Awesome. Well, thank you. I appreciate that as well.