New CEO of Wipfli Financial Advisors has major plans

Wipfli Financial Advisors, a wealth management firm affiliated with Wipfli LLP, a Top 100 Firm based in Milwaukee, appointed Jeff Pierce last month as its new CEO starting Feb. 11, 2019, and he intends to grow the unit while focusing on new opportunities.

“The business has a chance to hit the reset button,” he told Accounting Today. He plans to leverage the advice offered by both the accounting and financial planning sides at Wipfli. “I know some firms struggle with aspects of it,” he said. Pierce was formerly vice president and head of advisor practice management at Dimensional Fund Advisors, an Austin, Texas-based investment advisory firm.

He sees challenges with a number of new competitors entering the marketplace, along with industry consolidation. “There’s fee and margin compression going on,” he said. “Many firms are struggling.”

Wipfli's offices in Wausau, Wisconsin
Wipfli's offices in Wausau, Wisconsin
Wipfli Financial Advisors CEO Jeff Pierce

However, he sees opportunity for Wipfli Financial Advisors. “The overarching theme is to simplify the business,” he said. “We have to focus on where we want to spend our resources overall.”

He plans to emphasize deeper integration at the firm. “I’m thinking of it more from a client-centric standpoint, to bring increased value,” said Pierce. “We are operating as one business. We are Wipfli. I view the business as a whole as a huge strategic differentiator.”

Pierce plans to distinguish between similar sets of services. “A lot of times accounting firms do struggle with being able to fully integrate with the wealth management practice,” he said. “There will be work done to integrate this and be aware of the full capabilities in our own individual business units and drive that deeper integration.”

One area where Wipfli will be helping clients is with the extensive changes in the tax code from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that Congress passed at the end of 2017. “It’s about guiding clients to make well-informed tax decisions,” said Nate Wenner, principal and regional director of Wipfli Financial Minneapolis. He believes clients should take advantage of Roth IRA conversions, the changing tax rates and lower taxable income in the new tax law, along with the section 199A deduction for pass-through businesses and, amid the recent volatility in the stock market, strategies like tax loss harvesting.

Pierce plans to work with Katie Calagui, director of talent management for Wipfli Financial Advisors, on recruiting more staff to support growth at the firm. “We don’t want to grow just for the sake of growth,” said Pierce. “I will be working with Katie and her team to develop a long-term capital structure. When you think about it, while employees are your largest expense, without a good team in place you don’t have anything to sell to clients. That’s going to be a major focus as we go forward.”

To support those plans, he wants employees to have a better idea of how they can develop a long-term career at Wipfli Financial Advisors and its parent firm, Wipfli LLP. Acquisitions are another possibility, and the parent firm has done a number of them in the past year, including one earlier this month with Howe, Riley & Howe in Bedford, New Hampshire. “That certainly has to be a component of an overall growth strategy for us,” said Pierce. “But there’s got to be a strategy around it when those opportunities do present themselves.”

He plans to work closely with the team at the parent firm, looking at the firm’s geographical footprint. “We’re not locked into only one or two markets,” said Pierce. “We’re currently only a small subset of the accounting firm offices. We’ll vet them, but we’re not going to do an acquisition for the sake of an acquisition.”

Pierce also wants to do more data analytics at the firm. “The other big area of focus over the next 12 to 36 months is ‘big data’ making its way into our industry,” he said. “It’s sitting there, but they don’t necessarily have the right processes. A big focus will be diving into the history of the business. It’s not necessarily going to get us to where we are in the future. What’s driven our good years when we have made key pivotal decisions in the business when we come to similar forks in the road? In addition to that, it’s a chance to learn from the information sitting out there to build the business.”

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