Kamesh Nagarajan Says If You Really Want To Help People And Are Willing To Work Hard, This Is The Business For You

Kamesh Nagarajan Multicultural Financial Advisor Forum Profile

Kamesh Nagarajan is Senior Vice President at the Prandara Group in New York City, a division of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. Here he talks about why comprehensive wealth planning, not chasing individual investments, is the best approach to leading clients to the lifestyle and retirement they desire.

Tell us about your heritage.
I was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, but I am of Indian heritage. My parents are from Chennai. My father came to the US in 1962, on a boat for 22 days with $8 in his pocket to attend Carnegie Mellon. My father married my mother, who has a double masters, in 1967 and they settled here. My parents both worked at IBM and created the American dream story for my brother and I. Growing up in an Indian household, I learned a lot about hard work and always putting your best effort forward. In addition to school, we were always pushed towards many extracurricular activities, especially my mother’s passion, tennis.

You started out as a lawyer, how did you become a Financial Advisor?
I graduated from law school in 1996 and practiced law for a couple of years in tax and litigation in Rochester, NY. One of the partners was married to the branch manager of the Smith Barney office who explained how the business was going to change from transactional model to a fee based model and from a brokering job to more of a wealth management model. It would not be just about selling stocks and bonds anymore, it would be about managing wealth, estate planning, life planning and relationships. I saw this as an opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives. In addition, the Indian community was starting to emerge as a highly educated, wealthy demographic and I felt that I could be helpful to this group.

Has that turned out to be true?
Yes. If you asked me what Apple is selling for today or what the S&P is trading at, I would have no idea. I’m not focused on stock picking and in the course of the day, I rarely look at the stock market. I’m focused on working with clients, setting a wealth strategy that suits their specific needs so they can have the lifestyle and secure retirement they desire. I have partners in the practice that focus specifically on the investments. In the end, it is about clients having financial peace of mind and making sure we help them with the issues that they just don’t have to time to complete.

What are your strengths? What do enjoy about what you do?
I truly care and am driven to help make a difference over chasing a higher income. As a former lawyer, I’m good at listening and being empathetic: I want to know what keeps people up at night. When they ask me questios such as, “How am I going to pay for my kids’ education? Will I have enough to retire? Do I have the right investments?” my job is to give them a well thought-out financial plan that provides peace of mind.

Are so many wealthy people really that lost?
Yes. Succesful people do not have time to focus on their personal wealth management. They are too busy running their businesses and trying to spend time with their families. People tell me all the time they haven’t looked at their 401(k) since they opened it and have no idea what’s in it or what it’s worth. Many wealthy people age 50 or older have no will, no retirement plan and no planning done to transfer their wealth to successive generations. The fact is, people just don’t get around to dealing with finances because it can be complicated. So I choose to focus on helping them manage their financial lives.

Is it important to have a niche?
Yes, I believe that it is vital to become a specialist. Try to narrow things to your interest and expertise and always continue to learn. For example, although we do not give legal advice, my background in law adds to my reliability immeasurably. I often talk with corporate executives who have a large concentration of company stock, they are interested in learning more about the sale or transfer of company stock, restricted shares, insider trading issues, executive compensation, etc. We also work with physicians, who worry about asset protection and capital preservation. When you have a niche and you really begin to specialize in a few areas, you move away from being a generalist and this tends to give you more credibility with your target niche.

Is it important to be in a team?
Today’s business model and the regulatory environment is far different than it was in 1998 when I began. It is very difficult to be a solo practitioner in our business today. I created a team about 18 months ago and with the sophisticated issues that clients bring us today, a team with different background and strengths, is an added value for clients. My partner, Jay Bluestine, has a CIMA designation and is a PM portfolio manager. Our staff has a CFP, analyst and a CSA with 29 years of experience. Add that to a former lawyer and you are bringing a lot of expertise to the table for prospective clients.

Talk a little about diversity at the firm.
A lot of firms talk the talk, but we truly embrace and support every multicultural community - Latino, African American, Asian, Indian, Gay and Lesbian, everyone. There is a real commitment to helping all Financial Advisors, in every ethnic group, build their business and help people in their communities. When you look at the diversity initiatives at our firm and see the work that Kerry Piercy, Sandra Richards and Mandell Crawley have been doing, you can sense the commitment. They have been very supportive of my target niche client areas and our team can certainly credit them for being helpful to our business.

Is this a good time to get into this business?
Yes. I believe that this is the best time to get into this business in the last 50 years. Trillions of dollars were pulled out of the market after the financial collapse and is sitting on the sidelines. There is so much information out there that people cannot process it and what they need is advice, not the many “talking heads.” There are tens of thousands of baby boomers retiring every day. There is so much money in motion right now and people want to partner with someone they can trust, someone who knows them, someone who will be a good custodian of their wealth. Trust has become a big component of our value add to clients. In some ways, this feels lost in our industry. Someone new coming in, who embraces this business and puts in the work, will see amazing growth opportunities.

Bottom line - if you’re willing to work hard and want to help people, good things will come to you in this business and in life.

This profile originally appeared on the Multicultural Financial Advisors Forum on August 1, 2011.

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