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Why I Left Wall Street...

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We’ve shared a bit about the story of our business - but my personal journey is not as widely known. The fact is – before founding Cordant in 2010, I spent almost 10 years at a major Wall Street firm, as a Wealth Advisor and (later) Senior Vice President.

Many considered my time there successful - I built a strong wealth management team (many of whom are still with me today), established deep relationships with clients, had a clean compliance record, participated on the financial planning counsel, and consistently ranked as one of the firm’s top advisors.

Like most top-tier advisors running a team on Wall Street, I made good money. Which is why many (my wife included) thought I was a little crazy when I chose to walk away from a financially lucrative career in order to deliver much more to clients and ultimately, to help change how the industry manages wealth.

The Source of the Problem

Wall Street brokerage firms were built on the idea of giving affluent people an opportunity to invest their money. But it wasn’t long before firms were struck with a novel realization – catering to the companies offering investment products is a lot more profitable than catering to individual wealth management clients.

The incentive to sell with the firm’s (and the broker’s) best interest at heart was too great to ignore. All too quickly, these financial products companies became the “real” clients.

Advisor planning tools and training programs were centered around selling a product and maximizing profits. Rather than trying to understand the needs of clients and providing strategies to address them, wealth management clients received more sales than advice. Even advisors with clients’ best interest at heart lacked the structures, systems, culture, and tools necessary to deliver aligned strategy and value. This “one size fits all” approach to asset management presented a very limited opportunity set.

A Broken Wealth Management System

By the time I arrived at a Wall Street brokerage firm, this pervading industry model was built-in and ingrained. Trying to serve the best interests of my clients, I did my best to push through the red tape and structural forces set against me. I knew there was more I could do to better our clients’ position and lives – but because I didn’t have a broad, unbiased set of tools, vehicles and strategies, I couldn’t offer all the necessary solutions that best addressed their financial goals.

The platform was built to try and attract and retain product issuers and brokers/advisors – not clients. That meant that clients with a similar profile could wind up with dramatically different experiences and results. Reporting was not transparent, and portfolio assets were not integrated for optimal performance.

In short, I was unsatisfied and disheartened with the entire system. To put it simply: my role, my company, and even my industry did not align with my personal values - and it was a difficult thing to swallow. Like most people, I wanted to be able to look back on my life in the next 20 years and be able to say I made a significant, positive impact on my world – that just wasn’t going to happen on Wall Street (or at any brokerage firm, for that matter).

I knew there had to be a better way to serve my clients.

A New Approach For our Clients

Our team leveraged years of working with Intel employees to evolve the principles and methods that had benefited clients into a framework for a holistic wealth management system. The system would integrate all client assets, offer an open architecture where we could select the right product or service based on their goals, and create a cohesive financial plan for the future.

However, every time I approached senior management at my brokerage firm about building a new client-centric platform, I was told it would be too expensive. They would have to retrain tens of thousands of employees, change their business model entirely, and scrap hundreds of millions of dollars in existing technology. It became clear that if I wanted to make my vision a reality, I would have to do it on my own.

This proved to be no simple task. Breaking away from a giant corporation meant upsetting the status quo and, among other things, making the decision with my family to say goodbye to a comfortable, lucrative career.

Luckily, I had outstanding clients and a team who shared and helped shape my vision – all of whom accompanied me on this daunting venture. Quite the feat, considering the Wall Street firm did everything they could to stop both clients and advisors from leaving, and had the brand recognition and resources to do it (although I am grateful to report that these efforts were futile).

We quickly learned that there’s another reason Wall Street firms operate the way they do: it’s easier.

Turns out, wealth management requires less effort when each component operates as its own isolated entity. Not afraid of hard work, we sought to create and implement a comprehensive, integrated approach to wealth management. We worked tirelessly to build an offering that serves the best interests of our clients with a level of sophistication usually only accessible to the ultra-rich.

Where We Are Today

Looking back, it’s all been worth it. Almost five years later, Cordant has a unique, value add wealth management system and approach. And I’m proud to say that our model allows us to fully align our clients’ expectations and financial vision.

My years at a Wall Street firm taught me all the things that can go wrong when priorities are out of alignment. That’s why Cordant has adopted the highest legal standard of care, acting as an unwavering fiduciary – meaning that our advisors are paid for advice only. We are dedicated to developing an intentional approach to the financial success of our clients. And my hope is that one day, Wall Street and other brokerage firms won’t be far behind us.


To learn more about Cordant’s wealth management model for current and former Intel employees, read about Our Approach or give us a call at 503.621.9207.

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Cordant, Inc. is not affiliated or associated with, or endorsed by, Intel.

Published on July 01, 2014

William Anfuso

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