Bank Investment Consultant

If you're in Eastham, Orleans, or Wellfleet on Cape Cod, Mass., and you see a well-dressed, middle-aged man in a car being tailed by a senior citizen, that may well be Jack Salemi, taking the time to guide one of his elderly clients to where they want to go if they've forgotten the way, say, to the highway.

That's just one example of Mr. Salemi's going the extra mile for his aging customers.

Going the extra mile has helped him stand out in this wealthy retirement enclave, where the competition is stiff. Nonetheless Mr. Salemi's bank, Cape Cod Five Cents Savings, has a 52% market share in the area.

"I'm working within a great local brand," he said. Even so, while everyone talks about service as being the key to success in the bank advisory business, Mr. Salemi helps define what that means and how it is different for an elderly clientele.

Mr. Salemi, 50, has set his own standards of care for elderly clients, 75% of whom are more than 70 years old — many are a lot north of that.

For his clients, ordinary chores can become real challenges, and their memories aren't always so accurate.

When a 75-year-old has trouble negotiating the prompts on an "800" number at a financial services firm, Mr. Salemi makes the call.

When, an 80-year-old client and former railroad employee, who had just lost his wife, had trouble understanding the response to his application for recalculating his pension as a single beneficiary, "he called me to ask if I thought he should take it to an attorney," Mr. Salemi said. "I told him to give it to me and I'd sort it out. A lawyer would have probably charged him $240 an hour to do that."

Mr. Salemi does it as a favor. "With seniors, you want to be their go-to guy," he said.

When another client died, the widow called Mr. Salemi and asked him to contact her certified public accountant and money managers because she was worried about funeral expenses. She also wanted $100 bills to tip the funeral and restaurant staff where the wake would be held.

Mr. Salemi made the calls, wired $20,000 to her checking account, took out 10 $100 bills, and brought them to her house.

Advisers are in an ideal position to help seniors in many small ways. Mr. Salemi concedes that his level of service is time-consuming, but it has been successful. When he joined Cape Cod Five Cents Savings from Morgan Stanley in 1998, he inherited a $12.5 million book of business. Eight years later he had built that book 1,000%, to $120 million, one good deed at a time.

Mr. Salemi manages 1,200 to 1,300 accounts, which is near capacity. He can handle so many because the bulk is income-generating accounts.

He said he favors bond ladders — and a modicum of growth — that don't take much tweaking once they're set up right. "I'm a very savvy bond trader now, which I never expected to be," he said. "Many advisers are not familiar with bids, asks, or spreads, but I got good because I had to."

Mr. Salemi said he pays close attention to his clients' physical and mental health when they visit his office. "I ask about their doctors, their conditions, whether they exercise," he said. "Many have physical challenges, and when I notice a mental issue, I'll ask them if they want me to keep a copy of their important documents."

If the client's state of mind seems to drifting beyond confusion, he will contact a family member, he said. "I'll let them know that I just met with their mom or dad and they seemed a little confused. Almost every time they thank me for letting them know and tell me they'll speak to their parent and get back to me," he said. "Often, I'm the catalyst for them getting power of attorney, or at least they'll ask me to send them duplicate statements."

It's a touchy area, and the client may be irked by such a phone call. "You have to be very sensitive, very politically correct," Mr. Salemi said. "I tell the client I was worried about them. How can you come back at that? I've disarmed the client."

When the client has no family to call, Mr. Salemi often calls a health organization, such as the Council on Aging, which will send someone around to visit.

"I just called the Council about a client in Connecticut, who had complained about her prescriptions. I asked her if she'd filled in Medicare Part D, which effectively fines people $250 for not signing up," he said. "She knew nothing about it. I called her pharmacy, and they told me she'd cancelled last year. Apparently, she'd received the form to fill out, but found it too confusing, so she threw it away. So I sent someone from the Council on Aging and they got the ball rolling again."

With elderly clients, Mr. Salemi makes his fair share of house calls and hospital visits. "When I go to the hospital to visit one person, I'll look at the directory to see who else might be there I can visit," he said. "I always offer to help before I leave."

Then there are the healthy clients, who present a different problem: They want to withdraw their money too fast because they assume they don't have much longer to live, a folly Mr. Salemi strongly advises against.

"I had an 80-year-old ask me how long the money would need to last," he said. "I said, 'Be careful! If you're counting on 90, you'll be sure to live to 95!' " This rankles some clients, but Mr. Salemi holds his ground. "A client may not love it, but I remind them that as their adviser, I have to warn them that they could live to 100, and if they don't do what I say, we'll still be friends but they'll be a broke friend!"

In most cases, there is no reason not to plan for someone's living to 100, Mr. Salemi said, so he'll try not to invade principal by providing the necessary income from investment returns. "I've only ever had three or four clients live to over 100, and they've all been in good financial shape," he said. "When you're 102, you don't tend to linger — it happens real quick."

Though only one client has left Mr. Salemi over a disagreement in eight years, a fair number have passed away. He reckons that he loses about 12 A clients a year and two or three B or C clients per month. He doesn't go to every funeral, perhaps only three or four A-client funerals a year.

But just as clients live on through their children, often their relationships with Mr. Salemi do, too. "People like to show off their children, so I'll often get a call from a client saying, 'My son's in town. I want to bring him by to meet you,' " he said. "That puts a prospective customer in front of me, a new face to sell to. And you've no idea how old their grandchildren can be, so they, too, are often potential clients."Mr. Stock is the editor of Bank Investment Consultant, a SourceMedia publication, and is a regular contributor to American Banker.

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