Best-in-Business IMPACT Award™
Client-first every step of the way
In 1984, a group of CPAs founded JMG Financial Group to offer their clients more than accounting services. Clients came to the firm for tax preparation, and then stayed for investment services and broader financial planning. By 1996, JMG had established deep relationships with clients—primarily C-level executives with complex income tax and estate planning issues. To deliver the kind of service the firm aspired to, the next step was clear: independence.
“We wanted to really prove to our clients that we were being objective in the advice we were giving,” says Yonhee Gordon, JMG’s chief operating officer. “We operate like an accounting firm during tax season but also offer a comprehensive planning service model.”
Today, JMG has offices in Chicago and Downers Grove, IL and has approximately $3 billion in assets under management. The firm offers financial planning, discretionary investment management, tax planning strategies, estate planning, and retirement planning. . The firm has also branched out into corporate programs, with companies offering JMG’s services as benefits to qualifying executives.
“We tend to gravitate toward clients that can really benefit from the complex analysis we can perform for them on the tax side or their employee benefit structure,” says CEO Anthony Cecchini. Clients expect a partner like JMG to handle everything they need—and the firm delivers.
“Clients focus on their job, and we focus on making sure they understand their benefit structure, are able to capitalize on it, and mitigate taxes along the way,” he says.
This relentless focus on client needs extends to every part of the business—including technology and hiring—and it’s paid off. Client longevity often exceeds an average of ten years with the firm and those loyal clients often refer JMG to friends and family: 95% of JMG’s new clients come from referrals.
If you can’t find it, build it
In its 34 years in business, JMG has seen technology transform financial services, both in terms of what clients expect and what providers can offer. Part of the firm’s commitment to client service is not just keeping up with advancing technology, but building its own proprietary technology solutions. “We’ve historically found that what we need is lacking in the marketplace,” says Cecchini. “So, we design to fit the need.”
A former Best-in-Tech Award winner, JMG stays competitive by customizing and developing technology to improve client service at all levels, from educating clients to automating services.
One example is the firm’s customer relationship management (CRM) system, the heart of its operations.
The CRM system is the hub for all of JMG’s data and is tied to timekeeping, ongoing projects, documents, client assets, and notes from client meetings. It can be accessed securely from anywhere and keeps data organized—critical to an efficient workflow.
“What used to take a half hour can now be done in 5 to 10 minutes, and we can leverage that across the total client base,” says Cecchini. “It’s efficiency for us, but it also allows us to accomplish things in a more timely manner for our clients.”
JMG also builds “bridging” applications to make data transfer more efficient between systems. For example, based on data from the CRM, JMG has improved the tax preparation process by automating notifications, workflow management, and the distribution of tax documents.
“Technology is always changing, and we understand that,” Gordon says. “It’s important for the growth and future of our firm that we continue to stay ahead. But on the other side of it, we still need to maintain this ability to be so customized for our clients, and that’s what they expect from us.”
JMG conducts all firm operations in-house—nothing is outsourced. To keep all employees up to speed on evolving services and technology offerings, the firm created a Client Technology Expert (CTE) team, made up of a rotating group of support staff who learn about new technology and answer questions for colleagues and clients.
“We wanted to have a team of people that would be a resource to our employees and also be available for clients,” says Gordon. The CTE team overlaps with JMG’s Client Service team and often meets with new clients as part of the onboarding process, showing them how to use the firm’s technology platforms.
JMG has also invested in a cybersecurity team led by compliance and IT associates who have the added responsibility of in-house education. “The key is to make sure everybody else is sensitive so it becomes part of our DNA to be aware of those things,” Gordon says.
Rotating responsibilities also extend to management. Along with a director of compliance role, JMG has a chief compliance officer role that rotates among firm leadership every five years. Cecchini says his time as CCO gave him exposure to SEC requirements and cybersecurity matters that have helped him in his role as CEO. “When you live the chief compliance officer role for a while, the importance of these things really sinks in,” he says.
JMG also requires new employees to rotate through all departments so that everyone has a holistic sense of how the firm operates and what its clients need. And management has an open-door policy for employees to offer new ideas or suggestions for improvement.
“Our people are so valuable because they know the inner operations of our firm and they care about what they do,” says Gordon. Cecchini adds, “They also know that management is very receptive and willing to take action if it’s going to improve the efficiency or experience for the employees or the client.”
The right people in the right place
JMG’s talent-retention track record is as impressive as its client-retention numbers. Tenure averages 23 years for firm owners and 18 years for advisors. Cecchini himself has been at JMG for 21 years, and Gordon has been with the firm for 32 years.
“We train our people up from the entry level,” says Gordon. “As we get more business coming in from referrals, we are able to promote from within the organization.”
The firm’s mentorship program ensures employees’ success as they advance. New advisors are assigned a coach, and senior partners transition new business to nonpartner advisors until the new advisor is ready to assume the partner’s business relationships.
“It’s really crucial that all of our experienced advisors mentor the new ones,” Cecchini says. “That broad base of learning is beneficial to those that are coming up the career path, because they get to see different perspectives and learn from those that are providing the highest level of service to our clients.”
That common culture of service also plays a critical role in the firm’s acquisition decisions. In early 2018, the firm acquired MGP Wealth Management, and it has plans for additional acquisitions in the coming years.
“There’s nothing more important in an acquisition assessment than making sure that the people you would be bringing into the organization have the ideals, ethics, and values that are important to us,” Cecchini says.
Both Cecchini and Gordon say earning the 2018 Best-in-Business IMPACT Award™ is validation that JMG’s client-centric approach can serve as a model for other firms. They hope the award, along with the firm’s recognition as the number one Best Places to Work for Financial Advisors (30–49 employees) from InvestmentNews, will encourage their current advisors to keep finding new ways to exceed client expectations and bring more service-minded talent to the firm.
“We’re very careful about how quickly we want to grow, how we want to grow, and who we want to grow with,” says Gordon. “To us, the most important thing is to have people who actually care about what they do—always asking, ‘Is this really the best way to do it? Is there a better way?’”
JMG Financial Group is not owned by or affiliated with Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (“Schwab”), and its personnel are not employees or agents of Schwab. The IMPACT Awards® and this profile are not a referral to, endorsement or recommendation of, or testimonial for the advisor with respect to its investment advisory or other services.
The information provided and the views expressed by the Registered Investment Advisors and their representatives are their own, without endorsement or verification by Schwab, and some statements have been edited.
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