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Kerry Knox always had his eye on the big prize. But after a decade in minor league baseball trying to make it into the major league, the pitcher realised the sport was not going to be his ticket to success.
So, after a career that included reaching the AAA league, the highest minor league level in the US, Mr Knox gave up baseball in 1999 and joined Merrill Lynch’s so-called “thundering herd” of advisers.
It took quite a long time, but in 2015 he achieved the sort of success of which he had always dreamt.
The value of client assets under his management rose by over 350 per cent from $361m to $1.7bn in the year to September 30. The Merrill Lynch Wealth Management adviser’s haul for the year makes him the fastest growing adviser by assets on this year’s FT400 list.
This growth has not come from his list of former teammates and sports contacts, which is what many brokerages who hire his kind of professional athlete have in mind. In fact, Mr Knox has fewer than 10 professional athlete clients, who are mostly retired major and minor league players.
But he does attribute his success to the sporting discipline of “sticking to the game plan”. The hard work has not only paid off in terms of asset growth — he has also risen to the rank of vice-president at Merrill and is one of the company’s senior financial advisers.
Luck did play a part, he concedes. Several clients involved in private equity suddenly gave him large sums to invest and the assets from another client, who had sold a business, helped too. But these were not isolated events. Many of Mr Knox’s clients increased the amounts of assets he has been trusted to manage.
Mr Knox works alongside three other advisers and two support staff in Fort Worth, Texas, that manage a combined $2.8bn under the Miller, Knox, Dennis, Martin name.
“We saw a specific increase in portfolios because a number of clients are starting to give all of their assets,” Mr Knox says. This was achieved partly by encouraging clients to set more specific investment objectives, he adds — a “goals-based investing” strategy that Merrill and other brokerages have pushed for in recent years.
“We sit down with every client and put a financial plan together for them, giving them an investment personality questionnaire, and based on that we’re able to clearly define clients’ goals and invest accordingly,” he says.
Forging tight client links has also helped bring in more assets and boost referrals, says Mr Knox. “We really dig into the relationship and get to know our clients. We’ve helped clients through divorces, deaths — all major life events,” he says. “We do a lot more listening than talking and become friends with our clients.”
Most new prospects are generated by referrals from existing clients or local professionals such as accountants or attorneys. “We’re not pushy, we’re unassuming,” he says. “I don’t even carry business cards.”
This soft sales tactic is reflected in his community ties, too. He coaches little league baseball and says alumni links from where he studied at Texas Christian University have also helped build his team’s book of business, 90 per cent of which comes from the Fort Worth area.
Mr Knox specialises in separately managed accounts, but the team confer on topics including market outlook and allocations strategies.
“Last year, our goal and focus became to grow assets and instead of just one or two of us focusing on that, all four of us focused on it,” he says. “You’re doing one of two things, growing or shrinking, and we’re always trying to grow.”